The Arizona Fall League has announced the rosters for the league's 2013 season and the Seattle Mariners are sending seven of their players to the top Prospect league this year. Starting pitchers Danny Hultzen and Brandon Maurer and relievers and Carson Smith and Dominic Leone will be part of the Peoria pitching staff while infielders Patrick Kivlehan and Chris Taylor are among the infielders and Stefen Romero is part of the Javelinas' outfield.
Smith and Romero were on Peoria's roster last year while Hultzen was on the team following the 2011 regular season. Kivlehan is the M's 'exception player' as he is on a High-A roster (in High Desert) right now. All seven of the players are on the regular roster, meaning there are no league-imposed play restrictions for them. Last year Romero was a member of the taxi-squad and was only active on Wednesdays and Saturdays (except for the time he spent on the regular roster due to injuries). As General Manager Jack Zduriencik disclosed to The News Tribune's Ryan Divish, the plan was for D.J. Peterson to be among the group sent to the AFL by Seattle, but his broken jaw halted those plans. "He's going to be out about six weeks," Zduriencik told Divish. "It's an unfortunate incident, but he will come back." Seattle had sent three of their last four first round picks to the AFL the year of their selection.
Hultzen has been shut down for extended periods twice during Tacoma's regular season due to shoulder discomfort and has made only five starts for them as a result. He has pitched very well in those starts (2.20 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 6.0 H/9 and 9.7 SO/9) and has talked about correcting his landing spot to ease the stress on his shoulder in recent months. Getting in work to try and catch up on 2013 is huge for Hultzen, who could still have a shot at Seattle's 2014 rotation.
Maurer started the year in the big league rotation but was sent down after having a lot of struggles against left-handed hitters. He's back up and pitching out of Seattle's bullpen for the past month, making six appearances and seeing his fastball get into the upper-90s in those shorter stints, but the plan for him is still as a starter. The right-hander has a 6.58 ERA, 5.32 FIP and some other ugly secondary stats, most notably the 11.5 H/9 that he's allowed in 64 1/3 MLB innings. Refining his secondary offerings and finding a more consistent approach against lefties will be his focus.
Smith has been very good again this season -- and again even better in the season's second half -- for Jackson out of the bullpen. The right-hander has a devastating sinker/slider combo and has a nearly 4-to-1 groundout-to-flyout ratio as Jackson's closer while also striking out 12.8 batters-per-nine, bettering his numbers from his very impressive pro debut last year while with High Desert. The mechanics aren't pretty, but refining what he has to get a more consistent release point, improving his command in the process, is where Smith's focus will be this time.
Leone took a huge step forward in the organization this season thanks in large part to a big jump in velocity. He impressed last fall in instructs and his name was given to me by a staffer as one to watch this year, but his fastball jumped from topping out at 93 to touching 98 with regularity and touching triple digits at times. The velocity is great and it has led to some of the results as Leone has struck out 63 in 61 innings across three levels this year, but he also has only walked 17 after walking 19 in 33 innings during his first pro season in 2012. Still relatively inexperienced, the AFL will be a good test against higher talent and a great measuring stick for the front office to use as Leone likely preps for his first big league camp next year.
Kivlehan, who won the Northwest League MVP last year after winning the Big East Triple Crown and MVP in his only season playing college baseball, has put up the most gaudy numbers among Seattle's hitting prospects this season, batting a combined .310/.376/.475 between Low-A Clinton and High-A High Desert which included a recently snapped 25-game hitting streak. The strong, athletically mature Kivlehan has improved his defense this season while upping his walk rate and lowering his strikeout rate while moving up the ranks. Patrick turns 24 this off-season, so the AFL will be a good gauge to see how ready he is for the more advanced levels of the minor leagues heading into next year.
Taylor has also played extremely well at multiple levels this year for the M's, hitting a combined .314/.408/.458 between High-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson. He is also among the handful of best defenders in the organization and is a natural shortstop who can stick long-term there. He leads the organization in hits, runs, triples and walks while ranking second in steals. His SLG has dropped nearly .150 since he left Adelanto, but he is still having a very strong offensive season. Testing his offensive talents against higher competition could go a long way in determining the future for Taylor and some other middle infield prospects in Seattle's upper minor leagues.
Romero is the reigning Player of the Year for the Mariners organization and while he's hitting fairly well again here in 2013, the slash has fallen off pretty dramatically from a season ago (.352/.391/.599 to .282/.332/.432). He's been playing almost exclusively in left field for the Rainiers, the first time in his career as a regular outfielder, and the AFL for him figures to be more about refining his defense and building his comfort out there than it does with the offensive side of Stefen's game.
The Mariners will also be sending Jackson Generals manager Jim Pankovits to the AFL to serve as Peoria's manager. "It's quite the premier showcase for minor leaguers," Pankovits told Jackson's Manager of Media Relations and Broadcaster Chris Harris. "Certainly for the guys they will be playing at a higher level and playing against some better competition consistently. They will all have particular things about their game they will need to work on."
Peoria -- the defending AFL champions -- opens the season on Tuesday, October 8th and they are scheduled to play 31 games over the five and a half weeks that follow. Due to the renovations at the Peoria Sports Complex, their home games will take place at Surprise Stadium. The 2013 Rising Stars game, highlighting the best players in the league, is scheduled for Saturday, November 2nd.
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