Previous Rankings: 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008

System in 20 Words or Less: As enviable a trio of starters as any team, but system leans on hopes of exceedingly young talent from there.

Five-Star Prospects
1. Taijuan Walker, RHP
2. Danny Hultzen, LHP
Four-Star Prospects
3. James Paxton, LHP
4. Nick Franklin, SS
Three-Star Prospects
5. Jose Campos, RHP
6. Guillermo Pimentel, OF
7. Francisco Martinez, 3B
8. Vinnie Catricala, 3B/1B/OF
9. Chih-Hsien Chiang, OF
10. Chance Ruffin, RHP
11. Phillips Castillo, OF

Nine More
12. Alex Liddi, 3B: Liddi has tremendous power, but it comes with poor hitting skills, tons of strikeouts, and questionable defense.
13. Martin Peguero, SS: This teen has plenty of tools, but few are star-level.
14. Brad Miller, 2B: This second-round pick is a grinder with a line-drive bat.
15. Erasmo Ramirez, RHP: Ramirez has fantastic command, but is the stuff enough?
16. Carter Capps, RHP: Capps has a power arm and power body, but a relief projection.
17. Dan Cortes, RHP: He has too much power stuff to be a Quad-A reliever, but Cortes’ big-league struggles are a concern.
18. Brandon Maurer, RHP: Some scouts love Maurer as a sleeper. This 6-foot-5 reliever can get up to 96 mph.
19. Stephen Pryor, RHP: He bounced back with a huge second half. Pryor has a plus-plus fastball but needs more.
20. Forrest Snow, RHP: Snow will be a fast mover thanks to a fastball with velocity and sink. He could pitch in big leagues in 2012, but he has a seventh-inning ceiling.

1. Taijuan Walker, RHP
: 8/13/92
Height/Weight: 6-4/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2010, Yucaipa HS (CA)
2011 Stats: 2.89 ERA (96.2-69-39-113) at Low-A (18 G)
Tools Profile: He’s absolutely everything you'd look for in a potential ace.

Year in Review: This supplemental first-round pick created some buzz in instructs, and followed that up with a stunning pro debut.
The Good: Walker's ceiling ranks with any pitching prospect in the game. He has an ideal frame, clean arm action, and the kind of athleticism normally reserved for shortstops and center fielders. His fastball sits at 93-96 mph, touches 98, and features some natural sink. His curveball is a monster power breaker that flashes as plus-plus, and his changeup is now a usable pitch.
The Bad: Walker is far from polished. His release points can be inconsistent, which causes his pitches to get left up in the zone and getting around on his curve. Walker’s changeup is still very much a work in progress. More than anything, he just needs innings because he was a multi-sport athlete in high school and lacks repetition.
Ephemera: While 10 players have been drafted out of Yucaipa High School, former backup catcher Corky Miller (Angels, 1994) is the only one to reach the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: Walker has the ability to front a championship-level rotation, but with his age and inexperience, it's far from a sure thing.
Fantasy Impact: He's a potential monster; the backup plan is a saves-amassing closer.
Path to the Big Leagues: Walker could learn some lessons at High-A High Desert; he's too young for a two-level skip to avoid the inflated offensive environment.
ETA: 2014

2. Danny Hultzen, LHP
: 11/28/89
Height/Weight: 6-2/200
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2011, University of Virginia
2011 Stats: DNP
Tools Profile: He’s above average in every way, combining plus stuff and command with his athleticism.

Year in Review: Hultzen was among the best—and certainly the most consistent—starting pitchers in college baseball. He ended up the second pick in the draft, and signed a big-league deal worth more than $8.5 million.
The Good: Hultzen is as sure a thing as you can find among pitching prospects, and nearly big league-ready. He has more than enough velocity on his 92-95 mph heater, and his slider is solid, but his best pitch is a plus-plus changeup that falls off the table. His delivery is smooth and repeatable, and all of his offerings play up due to his ability to locate. He's an excellent athlete who played two ways in college. He fields his position well.
The Bad: Hultzen is similar to pre-disaster Brian Matusz in that it's easy to see him as a very good big-leaguer, but his stuff falls short of ace-worthy. His slider can flatten out, and he's had some minor velocity fluctuations during his career.
Ephemera: Hultzen starred at St. Albans school, an exclusive prep school for the Washington elite whose alumni include several current and former members of Congress, Vice President Al Gore, author Gore Vidal, and new Padres general manager Josh Byrnes.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a second starter.
Fantasy Impact: There could be an all-but-guaranteed return on investment; Hultzen will deliver in every category.
Path to the Big Leagues: Hultzen's performance in the Arizona Fall League has proved that he's ready to begin his professional career as high as Double-A. He could reach the big leagues as early as September.
ETA: Late 2012

3. James Paxton, LHP
: 11/6/88
Height/Weight: 6-4/220
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Fourth round, 2010, University of Kentucky
2011 Stats: 2.73 ERA (56-45-30-80) at Low-A (10 G); 1.85 ERA (39-28-13-51) at Double-A (7 G)
Tools Profile: He’s the classic power pitcher package, but he’s even more valuable because it comes from the left side.

Year in Review: After not signing with the Blue Jays out of the 2009 draft, Paxton did not make his pro debut until he was 22, but he quickly made up for lost time by reaching Double-A.
The Good: Paxton's stuff has always been impressive; he features a 91-94 mph fastball that touched 97 last year, and in the system, his curveball is only outclassed by Walker's. Control and pitch efficiency have always been issues for Paxton, but scouts noted simpler mechanics from his college days. Following a late-season promotion, Paxton dominated in Double-A.
The Bad: Paxton's changeup is average at best, and it still needs to be refined to become a weapon. While his control has improved, it's still far from good; he averaged more than 96 pitches per six innings at Double-A.
Ephemera: Paxton is a Canada native who led Delta Secondary School to consecutive league titles in British Columbia. The school’s most famous alumni is former “90210” star Jason Priestly.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an above-average rotation piece.
Fantasy Impact: Walks might hurt Paxton’s WHIP a bit, but he'll more than make up for it elsewhere.
Path to the Big Leagues: Paxton proved he is on the fact track in 2011, and while he'll likely begin the year back at Double-A, he could potentially pitch his way to the big leagues by September.
ETA: 2013

4. Nick Franklin, SS
: 3/2/91
Height/Weight: 6-1/170
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2009, Lake Brantley HS (FL)
2011 Stats: .091/.091/.091 at Rookie (3 G); .275/.356/.411 at High-A (64 G); .325/.371/.482 at Double-A (21 G)
Tools Profile: No tool is below average.

Year in Review: Mononucleosis prevented Franklin from putting up huge numbers at High Desert, but he impressed in the season’s final month as a 20-year-old in Double-A.
The Good: Franklin provides a shocking amount of power from a small frame; he’s projected to hit 15-20 home runs annually thanks to a swing that features plenty of leverage. He's a sound hitter with a solid approach and excellent bat speed. He runs a tick above average and has sound defensive fundamentals.
The Bad: The biggest debate in the scouting community is over Franklin's ultimate defensive home. He's not a bad shortstop, but not as athletic as most expect for the position, and his arm is merely average.
Ephemera: There have been 27 players with the last name of Franklin selected in draft history. Former Cardinals outfielder Micah, who hit two home runs in 1997, is the only one to ever go deep in the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an above-average offensive performer for a middle infielder, but it might happen at second base.
Fantasy Impact: He has double-digit power and speed, with an outside chance at putting up 20/20 seasons.
Path to the Big Leagues: Franklin will still be young for Double-A in 2012, and will return to the level as a 21-year-old.
ETA: 2013

5. Jose Campos, RHP
: 7/27/92
Height/Weight: 6-4/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2009
2011 Stats: 2.32 ERA (81.1-66-13-85) at Low-A (14 G)
Tools Profile: This big right-hander has an even bigger arm.

Year in Review: This high-ceiling Venezuelan teenager was even better than expected in stateside debut.
The Good: Campos had one of the best fastballs in the short-season leagues in 2011. It's plus and more in terms of velocity, sitting in the low 90s with plenty of 95-96 readings every time out. Campos also throws the pitch with the kind of command usually found only in big-leaguers; he works both sides of the plate, paints the corners, and comes at hitters with a strong downward angle. He's broad-shouldered and has a very smooth delivery.
The Bad: Campos can fall into being a one-pitch pitcher. His changeup and hybrid breaking ball both lag behind, and will need significant improvement for him to start at the upper levels. He's physically mature and might not have as much projection as most his age.
Ephemera: Campos did not allow a first-inning walk in his 14 starts for Everett. During that inning, he allowed just five hits and struck out 12.
Perfect World Projection: Campos has a very high ceiling, but there is still much work to be done.
Fantasy Impact: It’s potentially huge, as Campos could be the rare strikeout pitcher without control issues.
Path to the Big Leagues: Campos will make his full-season debut for Low-A Clinton, and could be poised for takeoff.
ETA: 2015

6. Guillermo Pimentel, OF
: 10/5/92
Height/Weight: 6-1/180
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2009
2011 Stats: .265/.308/.441 at Rookie (65 G)
Tools Profile: Power, power, and more power.

Year in Review: This big-budget outfielder showed plenty of power and plenty of holes in his game.
The Good: Pimentel has light-tower power; he generates plenty of 70 scores from scouts with the occasional 80. His swing features strength, loft, and backspin, and he can crush mistakes out of any part of the park. His swing is smooth enough to allow him to also hit for average.
The Bad: Pimentel's ultimate value will be determined by his hitting ability, as his other tools fail to impress. He's not especially athletic, and his arm is merely average. He has a horrible approach; he swings at anything in the same zip code, and regularly chases breaking balls in the dirt.
Ephemera: Pimentel hit .318 with a .625 slugging percentage when batting cleanup for Pulaski in 2011, but just .236 with a .338 slugging in 40 games away from the fourth spot in the order.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a classic slugging corner outfielder.
Fantasy Impact: He’ll provide home runs and a decent enough batting average, but little else.
Path to the Big Leagues: Pimentel will make his full-season debut in the Low-A Midwest League, but he could need 1,500 at-bats in the minors to figure it all out.
ETA: 2015

7. Francisco Martinez, 3B
: 9/1/90
Height/Weight: 6-1/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2009
2011 Stats: .289/.321/.426 at Double-A (124 G)
Tools Profile: Martinez has much more all-around athleticism than your average corner infielder.

Year in Review: Martinez had trouble adjusting to Double-A as a 20-year-old Tiger, but he made quick adjustments and was the best prospect received in the deal for Doug Fister.
The Good: Martinez has a downright pretty swing from the right side and earns easy plus grades for his hit tool. He currently showcases gap power, and has the projection to hit 15-20 home runs annually. He's an all-around athlete who runs well and has a strong arm.
The Bad: Martinez has been developed as a third baseman, but hasn’t made much progress there, leading many believe that a corner outfield spot is in his future. He's too good a hitter for his own good at times, and needs to develop a more patient approach and be able to recognize pitches he can drive.
Ephemera: Martinez has yet to draw a walk against a left-hander as a Mariner, including 51 plate appearances against southpaws at Double-A Jackson.
Perfect World Projection: He’s an everyday player with far more value if he can stay at third base.
Fantasy Impact: A good average, solid power, and a handful of stolen bases makes for a valuable third baseman, but not as much for a corner outfielder.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Tigers moved Martinez quickly, and the Mariners will likely slow things down by having Martinez return to Double-A to work on the game's intricacies.
ETA: 2013

8. Vinnie Catricala, 3B/1B/OF
: 10/31/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 10th round, 2009, Hawaii
2011 Stats: .351/.421/.574 at High-A (71 G); .347/.420/.632 at Double-A (62 G)
Tools Profile: He’s a bat-only type, but it's quite a bat.

Year in Review: Seen as a bit of an organizational player entering the year, Catricala did little for his stock while putting up huge numbers at High Desert, but then he proved it was for real by not slowing down in Double-A.
The Good: Catricala can hit. He works the count well, makes consistent hard contact, and is a doubles machine with at least average power.
The Bad: Catricala needs a defensive home. He was originally a third baseman, and he has tried first base and the outfield, but Catricala’s speed likely limits him to first. While scouts believe in his bat, he's not a masher with the kind of home-run power normally associated with his ultimate position.
Ephemera: Former big-league catcher Gary Bennett, who played for the Phillies, Mets, Rockies, Padres, Brewers, Nationals, Cardinals, and Dodgers over a 13-year career, is the only position player selected with the 293rd overall pick in the draft to reach the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an everyday corner outfielder. There’s an open debate as to whether he is a first- or second-division talent, and a third baseman or first baseman.
Fantasy Impact: The batting average and power should be there.
Path to the Big Leagues: Catricala will begin the year either back at Double-A, or at Triple-A Tacoma, depending on the roster crunch. Either way, he could get a look by September.
ETA: Late 2012

9. Chih-Hsien Chiang, OF
: 2/21/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/170
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: Taiwan, 2006
2011 Stats: .302/.361/.537 at Double-A (120 G)
Tools Profile: Most of Chiang’s value is in his bat.

Year in Review: This Taiwanese import was having out-of-nowhere breakout year, but struggled as a Mariner following the Erik Bedard deal.
The Good: Chiang has a quick bat with average power. He attacks balls in the strike zone and features solid average power to all fields. He projects to hit .280-plus in the big leagues with double-digit home runs. He has no extreme weakness at the plate, and hits left-handers well.
The Bad: Chiang doesn't have star-level tools. He doesn't run, and his arm is no more than average. He can get aggressive in his approach, which caught up to him at the end of the year with Seattle, where he also looked tired.
Ephemera: Chiang did his best Pat Tabler impersonation in 2011, going 7-for-13, including a triple and two grand slams, with the bases loaded.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a solid-but-unspectacular corner outfielder.
Fantasy Impact: He could be decent in the average and power categories, but not elsewhere.
Path to the Big Leagues: Like Catricala, Chiang could begin the year at either of Seattle's two upper-level squads. The club hopes that last season’s slump was the fluke, instead of the strong first half.
ETA: 2013


10. Chance Ruffin, RHP
: 9/8/88
Height/Weight: 6-0/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2010, University of Texas
2011 Stats: 2.12 ERA (34-23-16-43) in Double-A (31 G); 1.84 (14.2-14-6-17) at Triple-A (13 G); 4.08 ERA (17.2-18-9-18) at MLB.
Tools Profile: He has two plus pitches out of the bullpen.

Year in Review: Ruffin, another key to the Doug Fister trade, missed bats at every level, including the majors.
The Good: Ruffin comes after hitters with a 92-94 mph fastball that can touch 96 and features heavy boring action. His best pitch is a plus slider with heavy two-plane break that has already generated silly swings in the big leagues. He has earned high marks throughout his career for his competitiveness.
The Bad: Ruffin is a bit undersized, and his fastball can be a bit flat, which might be one of the reasons he is an extreme fly-ball pitcher. He is what he is as a prospect, and his ceiling is likely an eighth-inning role, as opposed to closing.
Ephemera: Chance's father, Bruce, saved 63 games over a 12-year big-league career, including a career high 24 for the Rockies in 1996.
Perfect World Projection: Ruffin is a late-inning reliever, but his stuff might be a bit short for closing.
Fantasy Impact: No saves, no impact.
Path to the Big Leagues: This spring, Ruffin will compete for, and is expected to earn, a job in the big-league bullpen.
ETA: 2012

11. Phillips Castillo, OF
: 2/2/94
Height/Weight: 6-2/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2010
2011 Stats: .300/.366/.482 at Rookie (48 G)
Tools Profile: He’s the kind of teenage outfielder that provides plenty to dream on.

Year in Review: This seven-figure Dominican outfielder impressed with his pure hitting skills during his pro debut.
The Good: Castillo is a highly advanced hitter for his age. He understands the strike zone well and has a lightning-quick bat to go with outstanding hands and excellent barrel control. While he hit just one home run in 48 games, Castillo projects for average power once he fills out. He already consistently drives balls into the gaps.
The Bad: Like Pimentel, Castillo's tools after the bat are thin. He's a 40-45 runner who earned equal scores for his arm, so he'll likely be limited to left field as a pro. In the end, his value could depend on his power projection.
Ephemera: Castillo hit just .244 in 24 day games, but .348 in an equal number of contests under the lights.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a star-level outfielder.
Fantasy Impact: The power is still firmly on the projection side of the ledger, but the kid can really hit.
Path to the Big Leagues: Castillo could earn a spot in a full-season league, but extended spring training followed by a summer in the Appy or Northwest League is far more likely.
ETA: 2016

The Sleeper: Outfielder Jabari Blash remains a drool-worthy athlete, and scouts have seen some slow but steady progress in his game.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/86 or later)
1. Felix Hernandez, RHP
2. Michael Pineda, RHP
3. Dustin Ackley, 2B
4. Taijuan Walker, RHP
5. Danny Hultzen, LHP
6. James Paxton, LHP
7. Trayvon Robinson, OF
8. Nick Franklin, SS
9, Justin Smoak, 1B
10. Mike Carp, OF

If a team can put three young big-leaguers in front of its five-star prospects, that's an impressive list. While he qualified by just seven days, it's almost shocking to see Hernandez and his 205 big-league starts on the list, and it shows just how valuable an asset he is. After his fantastic rookie showing, Pineda is just going to get better, and has ace potential. Ackely had a very good rookie campaign, and was surprisingly solid at second base, but he looks more and more like a player with a bit of power and speed, as opposed to a 20/20 type. Robinson's propensity for strikeouts led to an ugly showing in the big leagues, but his approach should help him make adjustments. His Triple-A numbers were not a result of playing in Albuquerque. I still have faith in Smoak turning into a solid-average big-league first baseman, but scouts are not generally as optimistic about Carp.

 Summary: The Mariners organization has some of the best starting pitching around, but there is a lack of depth among position players and a dependency on very young players. Still, there is more than enough help on the way to provide optimism in the Pacific Northwest.