The major pre-spring prospect rankings are starting to circulate and, no surprise, their universal view is that right-handed pitcher Taijuan Walker ranks No. 1 in the Mariners’ system.
“He has the raw ability to be a No. 1 starter,” Baseball America raves in its upcoming issue, “and at least settle in as a fine wing man for ace Felix Hernandez.”
Walker, 21, made his big-league debut last season by making three impressive starts, and manager Lloyd McClendon admits he’d be “very disappointed” if Walker pitches his way off the Mariners’ rotation in spring training.
MLB.com placed Walker at No. 6 on Thursday when it released its rankings of the Top 100 prospects throughout the game. The only other Mariners’ prospect to crack the list was third baseman D.J. Peterson at No. 88.
Peterson, 22, was the club’s first-round pick in last year’s draft and was validating his status until his season ended Aug. 22 when hit by a pitch in the jaw, an injury that required two corrective surgeries. Reports are that he’s back to full health, although he’ll open spring training wearing a faceguard for extra protection.
“He can drive the ball to all fields with his big swing,” Baseball America said, “but he keeps it under control well enough that he may not strike out as much as most sluggers.”
The best guess, at this point, is Peterson will open the season at Hi-A High Desert, a hitter’s paradise. But he’s on a fast track, and it’s a reasonable projection that he gets a big-league look at some point in 2015.
The rest of Baseball America’s Top 10:
No. 3: LHP James Paxton, who is in line to compete this spring for a spot in the rotation.
No. 4: LHP Luiz Gohara, who held his own last year as a 16-year-old in rookie ball.
No. 5: RHP Edwin Diaz, a third-round pick in 2012 who could move quickly because of his above-average command.
No. 6: OF Austin Wilson, a second-round pick last year who exhibits raw tools that have yet to transform into skills.
No. 7: RHP Victor Sanchez, whose muscular physique (6 feet, 255 pounds) makes him look like a linebacker.
No. 8: C Tyler Marlette, who draws praise as a strong hitter and an improving receiver.
No. 9: SS Chris Taylor, who is no longer regarded as a mere glove man after spraying lines drives last season at a 314 clip; could open season at Class AAA Tacoma.
10. LHP Danny Hultzen, a big-money signing in 2011 whose career is on hold after undergoing surgery in October to repair a torn rotator cuff.