Back to the Future: Danny Hultzen and Jesus Montero


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Exactly 3 years ago, Danny Hultzen and Jesus Montero were two of the biggest prospect names in baseball. That year, they both cracked Baseball America’s Top 25 list. Their names coincided with Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon.

2012 really wasn’t too long ago. Barack Obama was running for re-election. The Avengers was grossing a half-billion dollars at the box office. Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder were signing huge deals.

And of course, that was the year your crazy cousin kept posting “Mayan End of the World!!” Facebook updates.

For Hultzen and Montero, the next few years would be thoroughly awful. Hultzen would be derailed with significant injuries, and Montero would succumb to the worst impulses. Laziness, lackluster performance, PED suspension, and public humiliation.

Now, 3 years later, both men find themselves as emerging stories of the Seattle Mariners spring narrative.

Danny Hultzen is healthy. He hasn’t pitched much in 2 years, which will severely limit his 2015 workload. He’ll spend the year in Tacoma, perhaps joining the Mariners in the summer or fall if pitching well. But realistically, Hultzen is again an excitement for the future. Could he be in the starting rotation in 2016? It’s a very real possibility.

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Jesus Montero famously weighed 275 pounds last spring. Currently he’s scaling at 230 pounds. He is “born again”, and as a 25 year old with 750 plate appearances in the MLB, this could be a huge development. Because, the kid can hit. There’s a reason he was baseball’s #6 prospect in 2012. Simply put, if he can become the 30 home run guy he was predicted to be, he’d be on every team’s radar.

In my opinion, Montero’s future has promise, but not with the Mariners. He’s best suited for a 1B platoon on an American League team, where the DH slot is also an option. And because D.J. Peterson is the future for the Mariners at 1B, Montero’s value to the team, if he gets it together, is as trade bait.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe right-handed power is exactly the thing the Mariners don’t want to give up. I just find it hard to see where Montero fits into this roster.

Regardless, the return of both players shouldn’t be understated. Both have potentially high value for the future of the club, even if neither effect the 2015 season. If you look at the past few years, the Mariners had a tough break with some of their most prized prospects: Justin Smoak never materialized, Dustin Ackley sputtered constantly. Mike Zunino and Brad Miller have been valuable, yet have offensively struggled. And then there’s James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, who were significantly sidelined with injuries in 2014.

(Yes the bright spot is Kyle Seager. Bossman. Not a complaint in the world.)

As 2015 appears to be on a whole new level for this team, having Hultzen and Montero back as assets is just more excitement. Let’s hope their developments continue.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

3 Reasons Why Spring Training Is So Enjoyable

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Plenty of folks disregard spring training as “meaningless”. To them, it’s a long warmup to a long season. I suppose if you’re a casual baseball fan, this is true.

But for those who find pleasure in the greater details of the sport, spring training is entirely enjoyable.

Simply, It’s Baseball

After a long dark cold winter— without baseball— “meaningless” games are eagerly accepted. New faces and team-wide optimism is cause for total excitement….. Unless you’re the 2015 Phillies.

You’re Not Just Watching the “Team”, You’re Watching the Future

57 players have been invited to this major league camp. If you’re interested in the broader organization of the Mariners, here’s your chance to watch prospects play alongside major league talent. For example, say D.J. Peterson gets an at-bat against Clayton Kershaw. Tell me that’s not pure entertainment!

But Most Importantly, Every Player Has Their Own Spring Training Focus

In the regular season, all players have the same focus: Win the Game, Do Whatever’s Necessary. But in the spring, players are working on specific things. Here are some things I’ll personally be watching:

James Paxton- He’s refining his changeup. How aggressively does he throw it?
Kyle Seager- Is he focused on beating the shift? Does he practice hitting the other way?
Taijuan Walker- Is his demeanor of the nature he displayed in Toronto? Or does he still look anxious…
Rickie Weeks- Seriously, can he play outfield?
Willie Bloomquist- Seriously, can he play shortstop?
Brad Miller- Does he get some innings in centerfield? (This would be awesome.)
Mike Zunino- Plate discipline and finding the right-center gap?
Justin Ruggiano- Admittedly, I’m just curious to see what he can do altogether.
Austin Jackson- Has Lloyd helped him find his swing again?
Patrick Kivlehan- Just seeing him face MLB pitching should be exciting.
Danny Hultzen- Just seeing throw to MLB hitters will be nice to watch.
Jesus Montero- Weight-loss aside, does he look like an MLB player?

Whether working on their weaknesses or trying to add dimensions to their game, spring training is like one big workshop. And you needn’t be a scout to spot most of this stuff.

I find it to be thoroughly enjoyable. But yeah, I guess if you want a meaningful ballgame, in which you cheer your team for winning, well then you’ve got another 7 weeks to wait.

Happy Spring!

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

2015 Seattle Mariners top Prospects: #20 Brayan Hernandez

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2014 was a breakout year for the Seattle Mariners, but an array of intriguing prospects could mean that the best is yet to come.

20. Brayan Hernandez, OF, Age 17, Did Not Play

The first and most important thing to mention about Brayan Hernandez is that he is just 17 years old. The Mariners were able to sign him out of Venezuela last July for $1,850,000, a hefty chunk of change but it may be worth it for Baseball America’s number three international prospect. Hernandez has yet to play a professional game, which is why he ranks so low. However, his impressive tools and potential may allow him to move up the list very quickly in the upcoming season.

Tall and skinny, Brayan checks in at 6’1″ 170 pounds. He definitely has a lot of room to add weight, which could help improve his power at the plate. Some reports show Hernandez as a right-handed hitter, but I’ve seen videos of him switch-hitting (and the picture at the top shows him hitting left-handed). Regardless of his handedness, he can be an above average contact hitter, with the ability to spray line drives all over the field. His power projects as average, but as mentioned previously, he has a lot of room to grow. I’ve read many reports saying he has good hand-eye coordination as a defender. Whether or not that translates to good plate discipline has yet to be discovered, but it certainly won’t hurt him at the dish. As an overall hitter, Hernandez looks like a prototypical two-hole hitter, and someone who can hit for a high average in the future.

One of the most exciting part of Hernandez’s game is his running ability. He doesn’t posses blinding speed, but it is certainly above average. His athleticism combined with very good instincts on the bases, Hernandez looks like he can be a threat to steal 20+ bases every year, something that greatly improves any Major League team.

His legs can also help him in the outfield. While he’s projected to play center, many scouts place him in a corner outfield spot. He can cover a lot of ground and has an above average arm. His defense is overall above average, and should never be a problem for him.

Many scouts believe once Hernandez receives regular professional instruction he can shoot up the ranks of the minor leagues. He is just 17, but his work ethic and learning curve have come highly recommended, and it’s not unreasonable to think he could be in the Major Leagues by 2018. We will learn a lot about Hernandez in the upcoming season.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

Rickie Weeks Comes to Seattle…. An Excellent Move

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Jack Zduriencik just put a cherry on top of his successful off-season. Bringing Rickie Weeks to the Mariners for $2m is nothing short of a brilliant acquisition.

Let us count the ways….

1) The Bat

People loved Michael Saunders and pointed to his career-best numbers last year. Thing is, Rickie Weeks put up better numbers in 2014 than Saunders: in every category, in more plate appearances, and from the right side of the plate. In fact, Weeks had a higher OPS in 2014 than any Mariner not named Robinson Cano. Not a bad option when discussing the 24th name on your roster.

2) OBP

Week’s has a career .347 OBP and 10.5% walk rate. If he can continue to sustain those numbers (which he did in 2014), it wouldn’t be surprising to see him at the top of the lineup, giving Cano and Cruz runs to drive in.

3) Utility….?

Yes, Seattle brought another second baseman aboard, with plans to put him in the outfield. How predictable. The truth is, nobody knows exactly where Weeks’ will play. Maybe an outfield platoon, maybe first base. Or maybe Willie Bloomquist is done, and the combination of Weeks and Chris Taylor provide the “utility” role. It’s just one more exciting development to watch in Spring Training.

4) Veteran, early 30’s

There’s been a pattern this winter. Let’s name all of the Mariners acquisitions, followed by their age:

Nelson Cruz, 34
Seth Smith, 32
Justin Ruggiano, 32
J.A. Happ, 32
Rickie Weeks, 32

Jack Zduriencik has spent years building a young core for the Mariners. Now, as a team on the cusp of contention, GMZ is focused on acquiring experienced players to balance the youth. This strategy is so clearly rational, it’s almost boring. Regardless, nobody mentioned Weeks’ as a possible fit for Seattle, even though it made perfect sense.

5) Depth

The Mariners have dealt with their left-handedness issue. They’ve dealt with their OBP issue. They’ve dealt with the inexperience issue. They’ve dealt with the lack-of-offense issue. And finally, this team now has significant depth. The rotation, the bullpen, the infield, and yes, even the outfield looks deep enough to sustain a 180-game season with reliable success.

Let it be said, this off-season was fantastic for the Seattle Mariners.

Pinch yourself, the first Spring Training game is less than 3 weeks away!

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

Seattle Mariners Top Prospects for 2015: Best of the Rest

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2014 was a breakout year for the Seattle Mariners, but an array of intriguing prospects could mean that the best is yet to come. 

Danny Hultzen, LHP, Age 25, Did Not Play

The southpaw seems to fully recovered from a torn labrum, rotator cuff, and anterior capsule, and had three Instructional League outings last fall. The shoulder injuries suffered by Hultzen are same ones that knocked Brandon Webb out of baseball, so the odds are certainly not in his favor. Hultzen is expected to pitch in Spring Training this year, and only time will tell if he can make anything of his once promising career.

Ji-Man Choi, 1B, Age 24, AA/AAA

What could have been a breakout a year turned into a complete embarrassment for Choi. 2013 put the Korean first baseman on the map, and many thought a mid-season call up after Justin Smoak played his way onto the bench was in the cards. But right out of the gate Choi got hit with a 50-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs. He denied the allegation, but accepted his fate without rebuttal. After returning in June, Choi got off to a slow start, but worked his numbers back up to a respectable level. He ended the season hitting .283/.381/.392 with 5 home runs in 70 games for Tacoma. His ability to take walks and avoid strikeouts is very impressive, but the power disappeared, and a .110 ISO will not cut it at the big league level for a first baseman. If Choi is impressive in Spring Training and can carry it over to AAA, the starting first base job could be his if Logan Morrison flakes out or gets hurt.

Mayckol Guaipe, RHP, Age 24, AA

I’m not always a big fan of including relief pitchers in top prospect lists, especially ones who don’t scream “future closer,” but Guaipe was too impressive in 2014 to leave off. In 56 innings for Jackson last year, Guaipe had an EA of 2.89 and a FIP of 2.76. His 56 strikeouts out landed his K/9 at an exact 9.0. Guaipe had struggled prior to 2013, though it seems he’s finally figured out his mechanics and command, lowering his 4.42 BB/9 in 2013 to an outstanding 1.45 in 2014. While he did record 12 saves this past season, Guaipe doesn’t profile as a closer going forward. He’s not big and he doesn’t throw all that hard. Nevertheless, Mayckol should have a very solid career as a middle reliever, and will add another solid arm to a very good bullpen in Seattle.

Gareth Morgan, OF, Age 18, R

Following the 2014 MLB Draft, I wrote many positive things about the Mariners’ 2nd round selection of Morgan. I had him rated as a potential first round pick and Seattle was able to land him at the back end of the second. Great value for one of the best prospects to come out of Canada in recent years. However, Morgan was awful in 45 games of Rookie ball. A .148/.244/.252 slash line with a 41 K% and a 52 wRC+. Many scouts thought there would be an adjustment period getting used to more advanced pitching than he’d ever seen in Canadian high schools, and it seems they were right. Morgan still has an awesome power potential, which is why I still include him in my list while many others don’t, but he’s going to have to take huge strides in 2015 if he wants to get back on track.

Jabari Blash, OF, Age 25, AA/AAA

Since being taken in the 8th round of the 2010 draft, Blash has slowly but surely hit his way through the minor leagues. He began the season in Jackson, hitting .236/.387/.449 with six home runs, a 17.2 BB%, and a 135 wRC+ in 37 games. His BABIP was a low .270, which could explain his low batting average, but his outstanding ability to draw walks kept him on base at a high rate. Blash spent the last 45 games of 2014 in Tacoma, where his batting average dipped further to .210. However, he did slug 12 home runs while there, and was overall quite impressive for his first time in Triple-A. While he may not be the prototypical outfield prospect in terms of age and raw ability, Blash has been consistently above average since the beginning of his professional career, and I would expect him to play in the MLB at some point during 2015.

Dan Altavilla, RHP, Age 22, A-

Altavilla was drafted by the Mariners in the 5th round of the 2014 draft, after being named the Division II Pitcher of the Year. Just 5’11” many scouts believe he will be moved to the bullpen at the next level. That being said, Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara believes Altavilla should be give a shot at starting. In 14 games for Everett last season, Dan had an ERA of 4.36 with a K/9 of exactly 9.0. Walks got him in trouble, and he’ll have to refine his command to progress through the system. He has a very good arsenal of pitches, and his age and experience should allow him to move faster through the organization than many others in the draft. Not many have Altavilla on their radar, but he is certainly someone to watch in 2015.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

The Psychology of Taijuan Walker

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Jamie Moyer will be inducted to the Mariners HOF this summer. As one of baseball’s most respectable pitchers, it’s important to remember why Moyer was so damn good: His mind.

Moyer threw a fastball that sat in the lower 80’s. (That’s no typo.) He struggled in the big leagues during his youth, not finding much success until after his 30th birthday.  While age 30 is the mid-point for most pitcher’s “prime”, for Moyer it was merely the beginning of his prolific career. Over the next 19 years—extending to age 49—Moyer would produce a staggering 42 WAR.

Moyer’s newfound success wasn’t accidental, nor was it physical. It was psychological. A year before Moyer’s breakout 1993 season, he began a relationship with Harvey Dorfman. A “mental skills coach”, Dorfman opened up a new perspective for Moyer to approach baseball. It was all mental. Moyer could succeed by being smarter than hitters, “using their egos against them”, by pitching inside even with low velocity. And by being thoroughly prepared and “in the zone” on every 5th day.

Enter Taijuan Walker.

Tai Walker has the stuff. His arm is a rocket. But his control and command have yet to develop to professional levels. Sure, he’s young. 22. The future is wide open. But from last year’s eye test, it sure looked like James Paxton had control of the mound, while Walker was anxious.

Now, I’m sure none of us can fathom the pressures a 22 year old feels, pitching to major league hitters in front of tens of thousands of people. Especially with “top elite prospect” attached to your name. To develop the mental zen-like skills of handling that pressure is no easy task.

On top of that, in the modern advanced era of baseball, there’s so much data to digest for ballplayers. Each hitter has hot zones to avoid, cold zones to target. Each hitter has a potential sequence the pitcher, catcher, and coaches will plan out. Oh, and if George Springer hits a mammoth 2-run homer in the 1st inning off you? Be sure not to get dispirited. <Must. Not. Break. Composure.>

It’s no easy task. That’s why this season I’ll be very interested to watch the mental development of Taijuan Walker. I believe he’s an elite talent, with an amazing career ahead of him. The Seattle pitching department has proven to be exceptional in this regard, so I don’t fear that Walker will be neglected with proper mental coaching. Also, Felix Hernandez. Need I say more? Here is a guy who had Walker’s rocket in youth, but then excelled at the mental aspect of baseball just as well. Seeing Felix work, up close & often, should push Walker in all the right ways.

Most excitingly, Taijuan Walker did give a glimpse of pure excellence at the end of last season. For those who caught the game, Walker versus Toronto on September 24th was a pure gem. Walker was poised and owned the mound. He kept hitters off-balance all night. It was beautiful.

If Walker repeats that command for the majority of 2015, we’ll be witnessing the breakout of a superstar.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

Seattle Mariners Top Prospects 2015

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It’s that time of year again! One of the more popular topics on this blog over the past year has been prospects, so I figured I’d start a bit earlier this year, breaking down each of the Mariners top 20 prospects (as decided by me).

This years list will a lot different than last years. Quite a few players graduated the list, and a number of new faces have been added via the draft. There’s no doubt the Mariners’ farm isn’t as highly touted as it once was, but the high rate of graduation over the past two seasons has left the system looking very young.

I’ll start by giving a short run down of the “Best of the Rest” before discussing the “Top 20″ players individually, counting down form 20 to 1. I’m starting early this year to keep it from into the season again. As always, feel free to comment and give your opinions on all the players.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

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