Mariners Prospect Watch: Three Up, Three Down

We're about one-quarter of the way into the minor league season and we give you our weekly look at the standouts from the past week in the Seattle Mariners organization with our Three Up, Three Down report.

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.

One name that has been a frequent highlight on the "Down" side came over to the "Up" side this week, and hopefully that is foreshadowing of what is to come for the former Minor League Player of the Year in Seattle's organization. Five more names make the cut, including one prospect that is banging down the big league door. Let's get to it with Three Up, Three Down.

THREE UP

Nick Franklin - SS/2B, Tacoma Rainiers: .423/.515/.692 (11-26), 4 2B, HR, 2 RBI, 6 BB, 3 SO, SB
Franklin seems to be doing everything that he can to try and force his way onto the Mariners big league roster this season as he has an OPS of 1.003, more BB (23) than SO (16) and 12 extra base hits in his 29 games of work for the Rainiers. This past week saw him collect three multi-hit games and put up the 8th best OPS across the league while walking twice as many times as he struck out. The 22-year-old switch-hitter saw a few more lefties this week, too, and is now at .435/.519/.522 in 28 at bats against them in 2013.

He's played only 12 of his 29 games at shortstop for Tacoma, but that doesn't mean that he won't play shortstop in the big leagues. And if he can keep up this torrid offensive pace that he's keeping through the first quarter of the minor league season it is going to be very hard for the Mariners to keep him down much longer.

Vinnie Catricala - 3B, Jackson Generals: .444/.545/.500 (8-18), 2B, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 2 SO
Vinnie has been on the "Down" part of our weekly looks perhaps more than any prospect over the past 59 weeks as he's been stuck in a seemingly endless downward spiral following his breakout 2011 season, so when he puts together a solid week like he did last week, it's only right that we give him fair time on the "Up" side. Cat the Bat had four multi-hit games over the past seven games -- three in the last week -- after totaling only two on the season prior. Add in two extra base hits and him doubling his season walk total and it was an unmitigated success for Catricala.

He still hasn't collected his first home run of the 2013 season and his OBP and SLG both still sit below .300, but things appear to finally be trending in a positive direction for the player who hit a combined .349/.421/.601 with 77 extra base hits out of 182 knocks while tallying 101 runs and 106 RBI in 2011. Playing exclusively on the infield so far this season, too, Catricala appears more confident in himself with his throwing from third base.

Chris Taylor - SS, High Desert Mavericks: .407/.500/.556 (11-27), 2B, HR, 6 RBI, 5 BB, 3 SO 1 for 2 in SB
Taylor got off to a fast start with the bat in 2012 while playing in Everett which raised some eyebrows among prospect watchers because of his defense-only profile. He hit all through Everett, hit fairly well in Clinton around injuries and hasn't ever stopped hitting this year in High Desert. And the fact that six of seven games this past week were on the road for the Mavs made his placement here an easy choice.

For the season Taylor -- who is probably the soundest defender up the middle in the organization -- is hitting .331/.438/.486 overall including .321/.415/.432 on the road. He continues to draw walks at a great pace (15.2%) and he's pitching in with extra base hits at a strong 8.4% rate now, too. The bat speed isn't great and the strikeouts are high right now, but if Taylor can provide enough with the bat to not be a weak 9--hole hitter in the big leagues then he could turn into an everyday player because his defense is so good.

THREE DOWN

Taylor Ard - 1B, Clinton Lumber Kings: .048/.048/.095 (1-21), 2B, 4 SO
That statline is about the worst you can expect to put up over a week's time of playing every day. Ard has struggled adjusting to the pitching-heavy Midwest League all season as he has just a .167/.265/.267 slash thus far, but this past week was one of his worst. In all the 6-foot-2 right-handed hitting first baseman out of Washington State has collected hits in only 13 of his 27 games this year. Following up his .284/.356/.497 campaign with a year like this makes the 7th round pick a candidate to turn things around, but it also leads to more concerns about his bat speed, which were present before the draft.

Maybe Ard just needs a little time to turn things around, after all his BB and SO rates have actually improved so far this season and his BABIP of .200 just doesn't seem like it could possibly continue. Ard showed that he knew how to use the whole field well and use it with power during his time in Everett last year and the plate discipline numbers are still strong, especially for a power hitter. But until the power starts showing up, Ard is a disappointment in 2013.

Alex Liddi - 3B/1B, Tacoma Rainiers: .100/.156/.100 (3-30), 2 RBI, BB, 16 SO
Liddi no longer has rookie status and is certainly getting old to pin any hopes on, but he is a name that is familiar to Mariner fans. He has power and has shown that he can contribute in short stints in the big leagues. But his weaknesses have always been plate discipline and pitch recognition and here in 2013 those issues have been a glaring whole for the right-handed power hitter. Liddi struck out an almost unimaginable 16 times in seven games this past week, earning a hat trick (3 Ks) five times. He managed just one walk and three singles along the way in 33 plate appearances, making for an ugly .100/.156/.100 slash.

Liddi leads the PCL in strikeouts by 10 (over teammate Denny Almonte) and his 35.9% strikeout rate is the 12th worst number of nearly 1,000 qualified minor leaguers from all levels so far in 2012. Not impressive for a guy that was in serious contention for regular big league playing time in Seattle just last year. Liddi still has plus power and is fourth in the PCL in RBI despite his struggles with contact, but the likelihood of him figuring something out diminishes with each passing day of him flailing wildly at low and away sliders.

Stephen Shackleford - RP, High Desert Mavericks: 0-2, 23.14 ERA, 4.29 WHIP, 2 1/3 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, HR, 4 BB, 5 SO, .429 oAVG
Given how good he had been up until two appearances this past week it feels a little cruel to throw Shackleford on this list, but those two games were just oh so bad that it can't be avoided. After cruising into last Monday's game with a 0.00 ERA and .098 oAVG in 13 appearances on the season, Shakleford allowed four hits, a walk and three runs (two earned) on Monday then followed that appearance up on Thursday by allowing two hits (including a homer), two walks and four more runs, leaving the 2nd outing with a 3.52 ERA having allowed 10 of the 14 batters he'd faced reach and seven of those to score.

Signed by the Mariners as an undrafted free agent out of the Frontier League in 2012, Shakleford was lights out for CLinton a season ago with a 1.47 ERA and 8.8 SO/9 in 43 innings. His scoreless streak to start the 2013 campaign in the toughest of pitching environments in High Desert made a few more people take notice, but now this past week happened and the shine has rubbed off a bit. But the right-hander out of Savannah College of Art & Design is still posting strong strikeout numbers and boasts an eye-popping 4.00 GO/AO ratio, too. Hopefully just a rough week and we can give him his do on the other end of this report soon.

. . . . . . .

The Mariners registered as a nothing in the minors at the middle infield positions for a long time, but with Franklin, Taylor, Carlos Triunfel and Brad Miller all playing very well right now, the future at the shortstop and second base positions are better than they've been in a long time for Seattle -- maybe ever. And with the two men manning that position for the big league club struggling, a change may be coming soon. Check back here next Monday as we highlight six more Mariners minor leaguers in the next edition 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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