Mariners Prospect Watch: Three Up, Three Down

Our weekly trek around the minor league affiliates for the Seattle Mariners gives us two pitchers and a hitter on both ends of the spectrum in this installment of 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.

As June comes to a close, we've passed the half way mark in the big league schedule and are there with the full-season affiliates now, too. Players' seasons are starting to take shape on one side or the other and some prospects are starting to rise while others fall.

This past week saw the promotion of one top pitching prospect, the return of another and the departure of a top hitting prospect -- for the Major Leagues. But we focus on six players who stood out on the field in this week's -- Three Up, Three Down.

THREE UP

Roenis Elias - SP, Jackson Generals: 1-1, 2.19 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, 12 1/3 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 2 HR, 5 BB, 12 SO, .071 oAVG
Elias took a tough luck loss in his first start this week, but the numbers overall -- this week and this season -- are too good to ignore. The left-hander allowed only three hits in two starts and allowed two earned runs or less in each start -- something he's now done in 10 of his 15 starts for Double-A Jackson. Left-handers barely have a chance against him (.181/.259/.264) and he has been good in each month so far this year.

Signed by Seattle out of Cuba, from where he defected, as many do, in trying to give their baseball dreams a chance, Elias' climb has been quiet, but fast. He will turn 25 in a month but he's shown enough pitchability and he has enough stuff -- and as the article linked above points out, enough guts -- that he should be considered as a prospect. More weeks like the one he had this past week should get him closer to his dream with the Mariners.

Danny Hultzen - SP, Tacoma Rainiers: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, 6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 SO, .095 oAVG
Hultzen returned from his 2-plus month layoff this past week with a dazzling performance for Tacoma, cruising through the Las Vegas order on just 78 pitches in six innings of work. His fastball velocity wasn't quite where it was before the injury setback that happened back in April, but his pinpoint command still was, and that is more important for Danny. He has a 2.20 ERA, 0391 WHIP, .178 oAVG and better than 4-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio on the year for Tacoma in five starts, impressive even if it is abbreviated.

He's allowed only three hits to left-handed hitters this season and the command issues that caused so much concern for many late last season are nowhere to be found here in 2013. Hultzen looks like a polished 1st round pick at this point and with July now upon us, I don't think it will take much more to get Hultzen up on the big league roster.

Dan Paolini - 1B/OF, High Desert Mavericks: .350/.429/.850 (7-20), 2B, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 5 BB, 4 SO
Paolini capped off his fantastic month of June with a great last week that saw him post the 3rd highest OPS in the Cal League (1.279). He has four HR in his past nine games and still has more BB (46) than SO (40) on the season -- impressive for any hitter, but even more so because of Paolini's .218 ISO number. He has 30 extra base hits and hit more HR in June (7) than he had in April and May combined (6).

Paolini is a bit of a man without a position as he doesn't have ideal size (6-foot) or speed and doesn't seem to be comfortable at second base, the position he played most in college at Sienna and over his first two pro seasons that he hasn't played once here in 2013. His bat needs to max out to be a big league option for Seattle but the streaky right-hander's shown some very nice abilities at the plate when he's been on a hot streak over the past couple of seasons. He currently leads the Mavs in RBI and has hit better against same-handed pitching (.899 to .860 OPS numbers) this season.

THREE DOWN

James Paxton - SP, Tacoma Rainiers: 0-1, 11.81 ERA, 2.06 WHIP, 5 1/3 IP, 10 H, 7 ER, 2 HR, 1 BB, 5 SO, .417 oAVG
Just when Paxton seemed to have finally turned a corner, he got rocked in his last outing -- and it wasn't even in one of the huge offensive environment parks of the PCL. After back-to-back outings of six shutout innings apiece, Paxton got bit by the big inning again and struggled putting hitters away after getting ahead. He now has 16 starts on his Triple-A docket and the results aren't good: 5.24 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, .294 oAVG and only six starts where he got past the 5th inning.

I was told about some concerns over the off-season following Paxton's fall-off in the Fall League and there have been whispers of a bullpen future for some time now with James, but at 24 years of age and nothing really resembling a breakthrough so far in 2013 for him, perhaps we all should pay a little more attention to those whispers. The ship isn't leaving the dock yet on him as a starter, but the engine is running.

Brandon Maurer - SP, Tacoma Rainiers: 1-1, 6.97 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 10 1/3 IP, 12 H, 8 ER, 2 HR, 5 BB, 13 SO, .279 oAVG
Maurer was cruising through the PCL following his demotion from Seattle until he had tightness in his June 19th start. That outing (1 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO) and the two since -- which both came last week -- haven't been as good for Brandon, and the right-hander clearly still has some things to refine in Tacoma. Lefties are touching him up for a slightly higher OPS than righties still (.720 to .698), but Maurer has been working on his offspeed pitches to combat that issue. But that issue has led to another issue for Maurer as the right-hander who turns 23 this week is only throwing 58% strikes with the Rainiers.

Maurer's talents -- topped by his great fastball and quality slider among other pitches -- and the fact that he already has had big league exposure mean that it is very likely he'll be back up with Seattle before season's end, but he needs some more time in Tacoma right now and I wouldn't consider him an option for the M's at this moment. I'd like to see him be more economical with his pitches against batters of all handedness -- something that he did so well with Jackson in 2012 on his way to being named the M's Most Improved Player.

Janelfry Zorrilla - OF, Clinton LumberKings: .167/.200/.167 (4-24), 1 RBI, 8 SO, 1 CS
Zorrilla has actually had a pretty impressive run with Clinton since joining them in mid-May as he's seen a number of starts in the middle of the LumberKings' lineup, where he has done some damage, collecting 11 extra base hits and 25 RBI while playing strong defense in center field for them. But this past week was the first one where he struggled and he saw his OPS dip by more than .075 as a result of, once again, plate discipline issues. Janelfry has a strikeout rate of 20.9% so far in 2013 and that number brings back the memory of the 24.4% rate he posted in his stateside debut last year with Everett and Clinton.

A right-handed hitter with power, speed, a solid arm and enough range for center field at the higher levels, Zorrilla spent four seasons playing in the Dominican for the M's and that typically means 'non-prospect', but there is still enough there to make the 22-year-old an interesting follow for now. And if he can dial down the strikeouts and refine the pitch selection he still could develop and be challenged with a promotion later this year.

. . . . . . .

The talk around Seattle's prospects right now centers on the rotation in Tacoma, and with three of those arms highlighted above, you can see why. Taijuan Walker and Erasmo Ramirez -- talented arms in their own right, obviously -- join Hultzen, Paxton and Maurer for one of the best 5-man rotations in the minor leagues. With all of the position player promotions from Triple-A, however, the five may have troubles winning many games in the PCL. If and when one of those five move up to Seattle, don't be surprised if Elias is the pitcher summoned to fill that rotation spot.

Check back next Monday to see which players make our next installment of 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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