Here at SeattleClubhouse, our primary goal is to give our readers exclusive, in-depth information on Seattle Mariners players from the Foreign Rookie Leagues all the way to the Major Leagues. Looking beyond just the numbers and typical website resources and using input from our own respected baseball contacts to help develop our own unique ranking, we are aiming to give the readers rundowns on the names in the Seattle organization that are worth tracking for 2014, and maybe even pinning future MLB hopes on. Our personal taste plays into the determination of where the prospects land on the list; a combination of potential ceiling, likelihood of reaching that ceiling, the most probable outcome for the player and their proximity to cracking the 25-man roster all factor in heavily.
Each player covered in these posts is presented with a headshot (when available), their 2013 position, current actual age, handedness, listed height and weight as well as the last level which they played at in 2013. Discussion/updates, etc., to these lists and prospects will be posted in the subscriber section of the Forums. Please respect the confidential nature of the subscriber posts.
This is the ninth of our ten installments which each cover five of the best prospects in the organization for the Seattle Mariners as 2014 nears. The first eight sets, covering 35 of the top prospects in the minors for the Mariners, can be found at the following links:
As we crack the lid on the top ten prospects for the Seattle Mariners, the names that everyone constantly wants updates on are covered, and for each of these prospects I sat down for some one-on-one conversations with the Mariners' Director of Player Development, Chris Gwynn. These are the prospects closest to making the biggest impact for the big league club, with many of them having a real chance to contribute in 2014. These scouting reports will be deeper and the breakdowns of the players longer. Make sure to bookmark these for future reading throughout the year.
Wilson -- who was drafted in the middle rounds but turned down big money by the St. Louis Cardinals after being selected out of California high school powerhouse Harvard-Westlake, where he was a two-time Baseball America and Louisville Slugger All-American -- tantalized with his tools throughout his college days at Stanford but still had many evaluators on the fence about his ceiling. He definitely had first round buzz, but he fell into Seattle's lap at No. 49 overall in the June draft. He was assigned to Northwest League affiliate Everett and, overcoming a slow start, the right-handed hitting outfielder ended the season on a tear, homering five times over his final 14 games and finishing up tied for the club league in home runs with six, good enough to tie for the eighth highest total in the league. He showed power, patience, plate discipline, barrel awareness and a willingness and ability to pull and lift the ball with authority, seemingly dispelling the theory about big strong players that come through the Stanford program. So I asked Chris Gwynn, is the 'Stanford swing' really a thing? "They talk about that, but I've never really had Stanford players," Gwynn said. "We feel like a lot of it [hitting] is just getting in position, seeing the ball and looking to do damage ahead in the count, then it will just happen." Finishing up his point with a nod to the obvious on Wilson, Chris added, "He's so strong."
Wilson's size and evident strength is the first thing you notice when seeing him in person, as he looks every bit of his listed college size of 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds. His profile changed to the above height and weight as a pro, but regardless of where the actual numbers fall, he is a big, physical player. But while his size and physicality hint to his offensive potential, the 21-year-old is more than just a big bopper. He impressed coaches and scouts with his work ethic and truly improved as the season went along, showing a willingness to learn and an ability to transfer what he learned onto the field. His OPS numbers by month for Everett show the progression that Austin went through at the plate and the talent that is in him, painted with just a touch of that doubt that was present around draft time: .321 in seven games in June, .674 in 28 games in July and .973 in 21 games in August. He was successful in just two of his six steal attempts for Everett, but he picked up 11 doubles and three triples among his 49 hits and took the extra base several times with his long strides. Wilson hit primarily sixth for the AquaSox and played primarily right field, and while he profiles best there, the Mariners aren't closing the book on his outfield position just yet. "He's a good athlete," said Gwynn. "We'll move him around [in the outfield] in mini-camp but he's a prototypical right field profile."
As Kylie McDaniel wrote in his pre-draft report on him, "Wilson shows plus raw power, a plus arm, average speed, above average bat speed and good right field defensive instincts." After the year Baseball America named Wilson as the 5th best prospect in the Northwest League. He has a strong, accurate throwing arm and takes good routes in the outfield and he's no slouch on the bases, either. I spoke with Everett's manager Rob Mummau after the season about Wilson and he gave me this: "Austin had some things to work on when he got to us, but he's a hard worker and each week he got better and better. Great work ethic, great attitude. He's got a chance to be a Gold Glover out there [in right field]."
While he is a college player and a high round pick from the West coast, Gwynn says that Wilson will likely start 2014 in Low-A with Clinton. That league is a good test for hitters as it is traditionally pitching-heavy. While Gwynn won't come out and say it, Austin needs to refine some things in his offensive game, but if he shows the ability to adjust quickly again with the LumberKings to open 2014 then a promotion to High Desert during the season isn't out of the question. Wilson is one of the best hitting prospects in the organization, packing power at a position of need for Seattle, but the M's they won't rush him for the sake of getting him to the big leagues until they are sure that he's ready, and that could mean mid-2016 or later. Until then you'll be seeing his name in these top prospect lists a lot.
Another player who I had a chance to see exclusively as he came through Everett in 2012, Sanchez was 10th in this ranking a year ago. Signed for a reported $2.5m out of Venezuela in July of 2011, the Mariners took the somewhat unusual move of starting him in Short Season Everett without any complex experience despite him being one of the youngest players in stateside organized ball in 2012. He didn't disappoint with that debut season, and his follow-up campaign in 2013 in Clinton was even better. Victor made 20 starts and finished with the fourth best ERA in the Midwest League among pitchers with more than 14 starts while cutting his already impressive walk rate in half -- again, as one of the youngest players in Low-A ball. In our talks on Sanchez, I said to Gwynn that Victor had handled himself well in Clinton, to which he enthusiastically replied, "He handled himself really well. Threw a no-hitter and pitched very good overall." So is the 18-year-old ready for the next step I asked? Gwynn replied, "Just a matter of getting him in shape to handle the rigors of the season, but he's capable of pitching at a higher level this year, no doubt." We talked for a bit about Sanchez's shape and size and while Gwynn isn't worried now he said, "He's maxed out, physically, so he'll always have to watch that."
His size and maturity is somewhat of a mark against Sanchez as most people don't see a lot of growth left in him. "He's really good now, but with that body he kind of is what he is," and NL scout who isn't completely sold on him told me. He continued, "There isn't a whole lot more velocity in there that I see and the secondaries aren't great. He can pitch, but I'm not sure if he'll have this much success with his stuff as he moves up." Victor did have a lot of success in Clinton despite pitching to contact, striking out just 6.3 per nine but holding his opponents' to a .282 BABIP -- the seventh lowest mark in the league. His 4.39 strikeout-to-walk ratio was third best in the league and he was the 10th stingiest pitcher in the league in giving up home runs (0.32) among anyone with 70 or more innings. The big right-hander has now allowed only nine home runs in his 198 1/3 pro innings, constantly pounding the lower part of the zone and getting a lot of weak contact.
An AL East scout that I spoke with in August who had seen Clinton extensively, and who was in attendance the night of Sanchez's no-hitter, thinks that the Mariners have something special in the 18-year-old. "He's a very unique talent," he said to me when we talked in-depth about the LumberKings. "You know what you're getting when he steps on the mound because he is consistent like that with the command. You can say 'pitchability', but I don't think that really covers it all." Quiet but confident and likeable, Sanchez's poise and maturity enable him to always stay within his plan, allowing all of his abilities to play up. The advanced understanding that he has of pitching accentuates that, and while he doesn't light up radar guns, he isn't without plus weapons. The fastball is generally in the 90-91 range, but he can dial it up to 95 at times. As a general rule he pitches down with that offering, and it has some nice heavy action at times. He also uses it up in the zone to get swings-and-misses when needed. His second best offering is the changeup, which is already a plus offering for him. He delivers the pitch with great velocity separation, deception and late fade, and it, too, has swing-and-miss value. He also mixes in a curve and slider, but neither are anything special currently. Right now Sanchez relies heavily on location and the fastball/changeup mix, but he'll need to refine at least one of the breaking balls.
Although they've avoided it with many recent top arms, it sounds as though the Mariners want to challenge Sanchez in High Desert in 2014. He'll still be one of the youngest players at his level if that is the case, and the conditions and the talent level will certainly test his ability to limit hits and keep the ball in the park despite not being a big strikeout pitcher. His maturity and confidence will again be big for him in that environment, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if Sanchez is one of the more successful arms in the league next year. He could still be two or three years away from seeing Seattle, but Victor has the ability to be a dynamite number three starter for Seattle once he gets there without too much more growth needed.
Morban has been in Seattle's system since signing out of the Dominican in 2008, but he's logged just over 300 games of on field action thanks to persistent injury issues. 2012 was really his breakout year as he reached a career high in a number of categories and hit same handed pitching very well while hitting very well on the road for the Mavericks. That prompted him landing at No. 16 in our rankings a year ago. The biggest reason why he reached those career highs, though, was that he was able to stay relatively healthy and log a career high in games played and plate appaerances. In 2013 Julio again battled nagging injuries with his lower half throughout the season while setting a new career high with 86 games played, spending his entire 21-year-old year in Double-A. The power numbers fell off a bit, but Morban showed an ability to consistently barrel balls and reach the gaps thanks to quick hands and an aggressive approach and he was leading the Southern League in average above .300 for a good stretch before settling in at .295. Unfortunately, his season ended early thanks to yet another injury, as he broke his leg sliding into second base in mid-August, an injury that required off-season surgery.
"His leg is getting better and he's in Arizona now, doing therapy five days a week," Gwynn told me last week. The lefty swinging outfielder is working hard with hopes that he'll be ready when minor league opening day rolls around, Gwynn added, but "he's just trying to get his legs back underneath him," at this point. The broken leg was somewhat of a freak thing -- reminscent of the injury that Carlos Triunfel experienced in Double-A back in 2009 -- but the other frequent injuries to the lower half is something that the M's are working hard to try and find a remedy for. "He's always going to have to maintain it, and even [Seattle's head MLB trainer] Rick Griffin has been involved with that," said Gwynn. "He's very muscular in his lower half so we're trying to get him to stretch more, everything like that. The balance of it -- do your quads and your hamstrings the same amount -- is something he has to focus on." After stealing 10 bases in 2011 and hitting seven triples in both 2009 and 2011, Morban has been a little more careful on the bases because of the history there, but he is still a plus runner. He served as the Generals' designated hitter 31 times last year and rarely played the outfield multiple games in a row as the club was very cautious with Julio. He started in center in five of his final 19 games for Jackson, but he DH'd in nine of his final 13 games, too.
His split against left-handed pitching fell off to .241/.310/.329 in 87 plate appearances this year and he saw a lot of breaking balls from lefties -- something that he's shown to be susceptible to. That paired with his strikeout rate of 29.1%, the fifth highest rate of Southern League hitters that saw 250-plus plate appearances, are reasons to be patient with him, but performing at the level he did in Double-A at such a young age is still a hint at the type of talent that Morban possesses. "When Morban is healthy, he is one of the premier prospects in all of baseball," said Jackson's Chris Harris. "He is one of the best defenders I have seen. He gets great reads and has above average speed." Gwynn loves the talent there, too, stating that Morban is, "a very good player, gifted hitter, good kid."
Added to the 40-man roster a little over a year ago, Morban impressed then manager Eric Wedge last spring, but while he'll be in big league camp again this year, a return assignment to Double-A once he's healthy is most likely in the cards for Julio. If he can show that he's recovered from the broken leg, manage to stay healthy and in the outfield and make some strides in regards to his plate discipline, I think that Tacoma and even Seattle are possibilities in the second half of the season for Morban this year.
Romero, who was the M's Minor League Player of the Year in 2012, was hampered by some nagging injuries in 2013 in his first trek through Triple-A and his numbers fell off considerably from his monster campaign a year earlier. But while that statistical fall off has resulted in him also falling off of many prospect lists, our No. 9 prospect from a year ago is still highly regarded by SeattleClubhouse. The raw stats fell off, but Romero still posted an extra base hit percentage of 9.0%, in the top 1/3 of qualified hitters in the PCL. He also raised his walk rate from 5.2% to 6.9%, all while playing left field every day for the first time ever. General Manager Jack Zduriencik mentioned Romero by name and pointed out that his right-handed bat could be big for the M's in 2014 at the annual Media Luncheon, and the general feeling I got from everyone I spoke with is that the club is still very high on Romero's future. "I get on him like he's my son, but he just has to stay healthy and play," Gwynn told me. "I think his mental preparation is his edge," the M's Director of Player Development continued, "He's not as toolsy as other people, but that mental edge is what sets him apart. And he can hit."
The defense in left field isn't great and it isn't bad, but it is a work in progress. He's plenty athletic to play out there but adjusting to and learning the ins and outs of the position will take time. Stefen talked to me about again changing up his throwing motion a bit at times to get more carry on his throws (as compared to his time at second base) but said that he's comfortable and confident in left now. That said, he's been told to be ready to play at a number of positions if needed. Hearing that, I asked him how many different gloves he was bringing to spring training and he jokingly answered, "all of them". Regardless of position, though, his bat will be his ticket to playing time at the big league level. Romero owns a career minor league line of .306/.357/.506 in over 1,400 minor league plate appearances so far and if he is to make it to the major leagues it will be because of what he can do on offense.
Following the regular season Romero was assigned to the Arizona Fall League for a second straight season to get more reps in the field and more swings at the plate, and while he struggled a bit with his numbers there overall, he put on a bit of a show in the Fall Stars game, showcasing his power potential by hitting two opposite field home runs. Stefen has a small leg lift and short stride, quickly getting his upper- and lower-half in sync and into the hitting position with great balance. His line-drive stroke is achieved by being on plane through the zone and short to/long through the ball with plus bat speed. The strength in his hands, forearms and core help him get plenty of lift and backspin to hit for power.
If the Mariners don't make any more moves with right-handed hitters prior to the regular season there is a chance that Stefen could find his way on to the big league roster as somewhat of a super utility player, manning the infield and outfield corners. Even though he struggled hitting left-handers for the Rainiers (.213/.316/.363), a lot of that can be attributed to poor luck as he had just a .250 BABIP against them -- an unusually low number. Now 25, even if Romero finds himself back in Tacoma to start 2014, continued work on his defense in the outfield and good health should be his ticket to the big leagues at some point during the year.
Seattle's selection as the 2013 Minor League Player of the Year, Taylor shed the label of slick fielding, glove-only shortstop and shook off any doubters by tearing through High-A and succeeding quite well in Double-A just a year out of college in 2013, hitting a combined .314/.409/.455 in over 600 plate appearances and leading the organization in runs (108), hits (165) triples (11) and walks (84) and ranking near the top in a number of other categories while banging out 47 extra base hits and stealing 38 bases. A 5th round pick in 2012 out of what appears to be the front office's favorite college program, Taylor has skyrocketed through the minor for the Mariners with a very impressive offensive showing and strong defense up the middle at both shortstop (138 games) and second base (33 games). He was assigned to the Arizona Fall League and had the best showing of the prospects there for the M's, batting .294/.351/.426 in 18 games and playing solid if unspectacular defense at both middle infield positions for the Javelinas. All of that led Taylor -- who ranked 41st on last year's SeattleClubhouse Top-50 -- to shoot up near the top of the organization's prospect rankings this time around.
His success also led to Taylor being named as one of Seattle's Non-Roster Invites to big league camp this year. After going 3-for-7 in limited action in spring for Seattle last year, he figures to be given many more opportunities in 2014. Chris Gwynn talked about Taylor with me last week, calling him, "quiet as a mouse, he doesn't say anything. Tough, athletic." While the club was obviously high on him coming out of college as it spent a high pick on him, I asked Gwynn if the offense he was able to produce this year surprised the club at all. "I think so, because it came kind of quick, but we thought he had it in him," he said. I asked him what precipitated the changes in Taylor and he responded with this conversation that the player development staff had with him prior to 2013: "We asked him one day, 'Chris, do you want to hit second or do you want to hit eighth or ninth?' And he said, 'Second, of course.' So we started working on some things that we thought he needed to work on, and he has definitely handled everything that we've thrown at him."
Taylor has taken note of those areas and worked hard to improve his game, and he's impressing everyone that he comes across along the way. "He can play short, play second, steal a base -- he's a good player. Smart player," Gwynn said. Chris Harris liked what he saw from Taylor during his time in Jackson, too. "He handles the bat extremely well and hits to all fields," said Harris. "He has above average speed and plays the game with an extremely high baseball IQ."
Taylor hit .336 (42-125) over his final 33 games in Jackson, picking up 18 walks (12.4%) and striking out just 23 times (15.9%), again proving that he's a quick study and adapts well to the competition level that he's being challenged with. While Taylor doesn't have plus bat speed or power, he keeps the barrel level through the zone and he has enough strength to reach the gaps regularly. He is very patient and lets the ball travel, not shying away from hitting the ball the other way. At the same time, he's smart enough to know his profile and he hits the ball on the ground a lot -- 47.1% of the time in 2013, to be exact.
As stated above, Taylor isn't far away from being a big leaguer. He could see Tacoma out of the gates in 2014 but even if he heads back to Jackson to open the year, he'll be among the first names that Seattle would turn to if any extended health issues pop up on their infield. Chris doesn't have the sexiest prospect profile and he's never going to be talked about among the best shortstop prospects in the game, but he has a profile of someone who could be a major leaguer for a long time.
That does it for prospects number 10 through 6 on our Top-50 countdown. I hope everyone enjoyed this free taste of the reports that we offer here to our premium subscribers. The reports on who SeattleClubhouse considers the five best prospects in Seattle's system will be up next Monday, and all of the 50 players covered in these reports and more will report to spring training shortly thereafter. Stay with us for all of the news and updates on the best prospects in Seattle's system throughout the season.
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.