The Future’s So Bright I’ve Got to Wear SPF 15: A Largely Uneducated Look at the Seattle Mariners’ Top Ten Prospects (Part II).

The cupboards aren’t bare but there isn’t much to look at. Here are the Mariners’ top five prospects according to Baseball America:

5. Guillermo Pimentel–OF–(.250-6 HR’s-31 RBI’s-5 SB’s-.276 OBP-.727 OPS): Guillermo Pimentel was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2009 at the tender age of 16 for $2 million dollars (I made $7.56/hour at age 16 so I can certainly relate) and was considered by many scouts to be one of the best international bats available at the time. Pimentel has an advanced approach at the plate for a teenager and his compact swing and power potential gives him one of the highest ceilings of any Mariners’ prospect. Though he struggled in his first season of pro ball (58 K’s/5 walks) Pimentel just turned 18 and has plenty of time to develop into a top-tier hitter for the Mariners. He doesn’t project to be any better than average defensively, but if his bat is as good as advertised, Pimentel could become the middle of the order threat that has long been absent from Seattle.  

4. Taijuan Walker–SP–(1 win-1.29 ERA-9 K’s/3 BB’s-0.74 WHIP): The Mariners’ lone first round pick in 2010 (43rd overall), Taijuan Walker is a live-armed 6’5″ pitcher out of Yucaipa High School in California. Walker pitched sparingly until his senior year of high school (where he was also a star in basketball, averaging 21 points and 15 rebounds per game) but his plus fastball and developing curveball could one day vault him to the front of Seattle’s rotation. The tall right-hander has a smooth delivery and the potential to add more velocity as he fills out his frame. Walker is still quite a few years away from the majors, but in the mean time, he gives the Mariners a sizable advantage in pickup basketball games. Finally, something they can win…

3. Nick Franklin–SS–(.283-23 HR’s-65 RBI’s-25 SB’s-.354 OBP-.841 OPS): A first round pick out of high school in 2009, Nick Franklin burst onto the scene last year with a 20 HR/20 SB season in the pitcher friendly Midwest League (it was the third most HR’s ever by a teenager in the MWL). Franklin is a well-balanced player with above-average skills across the board who could continue to develop more power at the plate as he fills out his lean 6’1″ frame. The confident almost cocky Franklin is a natural leader with a high baseball I.Q. and intangibles reminiscent of Derek Jeter. If Franklin can stick at shortstop he could be in Seattle as soon as 2012,= with an outside shot at a September call-up this season. The Mariners left many baseball experts scratching their heads when they selected Franklin in the first round back in 2009; now the same experts are wondering how so many other teams missed the boat on a future all-star.

2. Michael Pineda–SP–(11 wins-3.36 ERA-154 K’s/34 BB’s-1.11 WHIP): Largely unheralded coming into the 2010 season Michael Pineda ended the year as one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. Signed out of the Dominican Republic at age 17, Pineda has progressed steadily through the Mariners’ system, posting high strikeout totals while maintaining a low walk rate. The tall, slender righty has an advanced repertoire consisting of a mid-to-high 90’s fastball, slider, cutter and changeup. There are some concerns about the health of Pineda’s elbow (he was limited to just 47 innings in 2009) which leads some scouts to believe that his future may be as a closer, although the Mariners intend to keep him as a starter for as long as possible. Pineda could likely do with some more seasoning in Triple-A, but unless you know something I don’t about Jamey Wright, he’ll likely start the year as Seattle’s fifth starter. There will be some ups and downs for Pineda in 2011, but the kid has got some serious talent, and will be a star by the time I learn how to properly use commas.

1. Dustin Ackley–2B–(.267-7 HR’s-51 RBI’s-10 SB’s-.368 OBP-.775 OPS): Owner of the sweetest swing in minor league baseball Dustin Ackley looks poised to step out of Stephen Strasburg’s shadow (though not a night goes by where I don’t dream of a King Felix/Strasburg starting rotation) and into MLB’s spotlight in 2011. Though his first year in the minors proved to be a bit rocky, Ackley showed marked improvement throughout the season, capped off by an amazing performance in the Arizona Fall League (.424-4 HR’s-19 RBI’s-5 SB’s-1.338 OPS in 66 at-bats for the Peoria Javelinas). Ackley was rated by B.A. as having the best speed and contact skills in the M’s organization and if his doubles continue to turn into home runs he has the all tools to become a perennial 20-20 player for the Mariners (see Chase Utley Lite–all the great flavor, none of the guilt). The Mariners’ second baseman of the future likely won’t start the year in Seattle in order to delay his service clock (giving the M’s an extra year of team control) but Ackley should be in the Emerald City by the end of May or beginning of June…just in time for the team to be eliminated from the playoffs.

So there’s that…

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Deal With the Devil: Will Seattle Regret Not Trading Cliff Lee to the Yankees and What Is Josh Lueke’s Future in Seattle?

Will Josh Lueke ever be allowed to pitch for the Mariners? Should he be?

If you haven’t been paying attention to the Mariners lately (instead choosing to enjoy life and not indulge in masochistic urges) it’s likely that you missed the latest controversy surrounding the team–and it has nothing to do with play on the field.        

Flashback to July, when the Mariners had a deal in place to trade Cliff Lee to the New York Yankees for a package of prospects including top-hitting catcher Jesus Montero, only to nix the trade at the last-minute in order to take a “better” offer from division rival Texas. At the time it seemed like a major coup for the Seattle front office, as they acquired powerful switch-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak and a former first round pick in pitcher Blake Beaven. However, after the initial euphoria lifted, things quickly began to unravel.        

One of the lesser known players in the trade, reliever Josh Lueke, had been convicted of a horrific crime–one that the front office was apparently clueless about (despite the fact that a simple Google search would bring up the information from Lueke’s case). Team president Chuck Armstrong and general manager Jack Zduriencik both claimed not to know the extent of Lueke’s criminal record, even though former pitching coach Rick Adair said he told the front office everything he knew about Lueke on and off the field. This set off a back and forth between the Seattle front office (who claimed to have been misled by the Rangers) and Texas (who stated that Lueke’s background was common knowledge and that they had offered to take him back) and eventually led to the firing of professional scouting director Carmen Fusco, a personal hire of Zdurinciek and a 35-year baseball veteran. Selling Fusco as the scapegoat didn’t quell the controversy though, and serious questions continue to linger about the M’s front office and the future of Jack Zdurienciek in Seattle.   

There’s no denying that Lueke is a talented pitcher (5-2, 1.86 ERA and 94 K’s in 63 innings at three minor league stops in 2010) but there are plenty of questions surrounding the Mariners’ decisions making in the process and what Lueke’s role with the organization will be moving forward. Seattle certainly needs help in the bullpen (apologies to Chris Seddon and Jamey Wright) but is bringing aboard a pitcher with Lueke’s history worth the potential damage to the organization’s reputation–especially an organization that has been so outspoken about domestic violence? The team had a chance to call-up Lueke when rosters expanded but balked at the opportunity, likely due to the outrage surrounding the “discovery” of his crimes. Will the response of fans be any different if the Mariners wait until next season to promote Lueke?  

Despite the fact that Lueke has paid his debt to society (spending 40 days in jail), it doesn’t change what he’s done and it won’t change how he’s viewed by fans and the community. If the organization knew about his past and still completed the trade with Texas it’s clear that the Mariners puts winning above all else, and if that’s the case,  they had better start winning (maybe we could become the baseball version of the Cincinnati Bengals). If Seattle truly didn’t know about Lueke’s criminal record (highly, highly unlikely) then the organization still has a responsibility to be upfront with their fan base about the situation and act accordingly, even if that means trading away or cutting Lueke. The Mariners made a colossal P.R. mistake by bringing aboard Lueke and the organization needs to act fast in order to save face–this isn’t an issue that will just go away if it’s ignored. 

No matter how this issue plays out, it’s clear that the Seattle front office isn’t the model of perfection we though it was, and that Jack Zduriencik might not be the man to lead the Mariners back to the playoffs. This whole firestorm could have been avoided if Seattle had just followed through on their trade with New York, but it appears that by trying to burn the Yankees, the Mariners torched themselves. 

Only time will tell…