For the Mariners to tally 87 wins in 2014 they needed to get career years from journeymen, and get quality contributions from young players. The M’s received a great mix of both this season, and today we will focus on their talented youngsters.
Rookies played a huge part in the 2014 Mariners, particularly in the second half of the season. Today, I will highlight the top 5 Mariners rookie contributors in my opinion. Not all of these players made their debuts in 2014, but they were all technically still considered rookies.
Now let’s take a deeper look at the top 5 M’s rookies in 2014. These names are in no particular order.
SP James Paxton: 6-4, 3.04 ERA, 59 K, 29 BB
James Paxton had an incredible campaign fro Seattle in 2014, and if he can stay off the disabled list in 2015, he could be an All-Star. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
The 25-year-old Canadian southpaw had a marvelous first full season in the Major Leagues in 2014. After starting the season brilliantly, winning his first 2 outings against the Los Angeles Angels, Paxton was bit by the injury bug. Pax injured his left lat muscle, an injury that would keep him out of the M’s rotation from April 8th until August 2nd, missing nearly 4 months of action.
When Paxton made is long awaited return to the rotation he was electric. Over 5 starts in August, Pax went 2-1 with a 1.65 ERA. September was not so kind to the young southpaw, as he went 2-3 with a 4.41 ERA. A beat down in Toronto on September 22nd in which Paxton lasted just 2.2 innings and allowed 8 runs skewed his numbers. He responded nicely however in his final outing of the season, allowing just 1 run over 5.1 innings of work in a must win game against the Angels.
The Ladner, British Columbia native was the second best starting pitcher for the M’s down the stretch, which is a quite a feat considering his company in the rotation. Paxton allowed more than 3 runs in just 1 of his 13 starts in 2014. If Paxton can stay healthy next season, he could make a big difference in Seattle. At this point, Paxton is penciled in as the club’s number 3 starter for 2015, but reports suggest that the front office in Seattle may be looking to add a veteran innings eater for the 3 spot. Either way, Paxton has a very promising future with the Mariners, and figures to play a key role as the M’s push for the postseason in 2015.
CF James Jones: 108 G, .250 AVG, .278 OBP, 0 HR, 9 RBI, 27 SB
James Jones made a big impact for Seattle, and he quickly became a fan favourite. His brand of baseball is an exciting one, and hopefully he will be wreaking havoc on the base paths for opponents in 2015. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
James Jones made his Major League debut on April 18th in Miami, and in his first at bat he collected his first hit. Jones earned the everyday centerfield gig on May 11th and he quite literally, ran with the opportunity. Jones had a 14 game hitting streak from May 8th to the 24th. In May and June Jones hit a respectable .285 combined. Jones did a fabulous job utilizing his speed, both in the field and on the base paths.
Jones’ performance dropped off big time in July, as he hit just .196, and on July 31st the M’s traded for veteran centerfielder, Austin Jackson. Jones was sent down to Triple –A Tacoma on August 1st, but made a return later in the same month. Jones played a key role for Seattle down the stretch as their preferred pinch runner. Jones swiped 5 of his team leading 27 bags over the final month of the season, often times at critical situations late in the game.
Jones does not have a defined role with the club heading into the 2015 season, but his most likely role will be as a 4th or 5th outfielder who is called upon late in ballgames to pinch run. If Jones can comfortably play all three outfield spots, he will really help his chances of breaking camp on the 25-man roster at the end of March. The Brooklyn, New York native provided the 2014 Mariners with excitement and fun, and I hope there is a spot on the 2015 version of the M’s.
RP Dominic Leone: 8-2, 2.17 ERA, 70 K, 25 BB
Dom Leone was a revelation for Seattle in 2014. His fastball is dominant, and his pitches get plenty of movement. 2015 could be a big year for the Connecticut native. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
In the Mariners Minute Pitching and Defense Awards released earlier in the week, Dominic Leone was named as a co-winner of the relief pitcher of the year. Obviously, I think he was indispensable for the M’s in 2014, and his numbers back that statement up. Over 66.1 innings, the Norwich Connecticut native, registered an impressive 2.17 ERA and tallied 8 wins for the M’s. He held opponents to a .217 batting average, struck out 70 hitters, and issued just 25 free passes. The former member of Red Sox Nation was wicked good for Seattle in 2014.
It’s hard not to describe Leone’s first season in the bigs as a rousing success. He was one of the main guys in the best bullpen in baseball, and he is just 22-years-old. After never pitching above Double-A prior to this season, Leone made a big impression in the spring, and flourished in the 7th inning role for Seattle all season.
I would venture a guess that next season the former 16th round pick will once again serve as the club’s 7th inning man. While becoming a Major League closer may not be in the cards, he could serve as a quality set-up man in the near future, possibly even next season. The Mariners will hope Leone can produce anything close to the performance he had this season in 2015.
SS Chris Taylor: 47 G, .287 AVG, .347 OBP, 0 HR, 9 RBI, 5 SB
Chris Taylor had his moments this past season, but improved glove work and hitting the gym should be top priories this offseason. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Chris Taylor played over half of the 2014 season in Triple-A Tacoma, but when he finally got his shot in the Big Leagues he made a difference for the M’s. Taylor was called-up on July 24th to take the roster spot of Willie Bloomquist, and push the incumbent shortstop, Brad Miller. Turns out Taylor did more than just push Miller, as at one point in the season Taylor got the majority of the starts at short.
Taylor put up some decent numbers at the plate, batting .287 with no home runs and 9 runs batted in. Mariners manager, Lloyd McClendon, raved about Taylor’s defense all season, and Taylor definitely showed glimpses of his defensive prowess. Taylor certainly has his deficiencies as well however, as he displayed zero pop with the stick, never threatening the fences. Taylor also had some trouble with the leather, booting a few easy grounders. But this is balanced out by his strong arm and ability to make contact; Taylor is a career .320 hitter in the minor leagues.
It has already been suggested by the M’s front office that next spring will see a battle between Taylor and Miller for the everyday job at shortstop. McClendon has subtly suggested that Miller may be best suited as a utility player and Taylor is a natural shortstop. I happen to feel that Taylor’s light hitting nature and defensive miscues make him a better fit as a part time player, as he has posted a career .946 fielding percentage at short in the Minor Leagues, but alas I am not the manager. I have always felt that Taylor looks and plays more like a second baseman, and his .970 career minor league fielding percentage at second base supports that claim.
SP Taijuan Walker: 2-3, 2.61 ERA, 34 K, 18 BB
Taijuan Walker looked like a completely different pitcher after being re-called from Triple-A Tacoma on September 1st. Walker’s new delivery has produced better command of his fastball, something the M’s hope to see in 2015. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
A shoulder injury suffered in spring training delayed the arrival of Tai Walker to Seattle. Walker made his first start of the season for the M’s on June 30th against the Houston Astros. After struggling with his command, especially with his fastball, Walker was sent down to Tacoma on July 9th. Walker made a spot start on July 23rd with the big club against the New York Mets. I was in attendance that day, and Walker’s performance could only be described as inconsistent, but his potential was undeniable.
After being sent back to Tacoma following his outing against the Mets, Walker completely changed his delivery to the plate in an effort to improve his fastball control. Walker essentially eliminated the windup from his arsenal, as he now mimics David Price’s windup delivery. Walker’s new delivery involves more fancy footwork than a Dancing With the Stars Rumba, but it seems to work for the 22-year-old righty. Over Walker’s final 2 outings of the campaign, he went 1-1 with a 1.98 ERA, 13 strikeouts and just 3 walks. In Tai’s last start he hurled 8 innings and allowed just 1 run against the Toronto Blue Jays. If Seattle had somehow forced a game 163, Walker would have gotten the ball.
Walker is on track to occupy the final spot in the M’s rotation in 2015 if everything goes according to plan in spring training. Currently, Walker is scheduled to pitch a total of 30 innings in the Arizona Fall League this month. Tai has ace stuff, and it is not hard to imagine him making an All-Star game within the next 2 seasons.
Now let’s shift our focus to the Minor Leagues, and turn our attention to 5 prospects who could possibly make an impact for the Mariners during the 2015 season. Note that these players may not necessarily be the M’s top 5 prospects, but rather players who could contribute for Seattle next season. Again these names are in no particular order.
3B Patrick Kivlehan: 138 G, .295 AVG, .363 OBP, 20 HR, 103 RBI, 11 SB
Patrick Kivlehan tore up the Minor Leagues in 2014, and the co-player of the year in the Mariners system could make an impact in Seattle as early as 2015. (Photo by Dylan Higgins/AFL)
Patrick Kivlehan split the 2014 season playing for the High Desert Mavericks of the California League, and the Jackson Generals of the Southern League. Kivlehan played 34 games in High Desert this season, hitting .282 with 9 home runs and 35 RBI’s in Advanced-A ball. After being promoted to the Mariners Double-A affiliate in Jackson, Kivlehan hit .300 with 11 home runs and 68 RBI’s across 104 games. Kivlehan’s numbers improved after his promotion, which is a great sign for Seattle and Kivlehan.
The 24-year-old former Rutgers star was a co-winner of the Mariners Minor League player of the year in 2014. Entering this past season, Kivlehan was ranked as the M’s 19th best prospect according to MLB.com. After his impressive campaign Kivlehan is ranked as Seattle’s number 6 prospect on MLB.com.
Kivlehan is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League, and should get an extended look in spring training for the M’s. While breaking camp with the big club may too optimistic, I could certainly envision Kivlehan getting a June call-up if he continues to impress the Mariners brass. A right handed hitter with plus power is exactly what Seattle is looking for, thus the right handed Kivlehan is a name to keep an eye on in 2015. Kivlehan has the ability to play first base, and the athleticism to play a corner outfield spot, something he may have to utilize with All-Star third baseman, Kyle Seager, manning the hot corner for the foreseeable future in Seattle.
1B D.J. Peterson: 123 G, .297 AVG, .360 OBP, 31 HR, 111 RBI, 7 SB
DJ Peterson should start looking for an apartment in Seattle now, as he likely will be spending much of the 2015 season with the big club. Peterson is destined to get at bats next season at first base or designated hitter, as his bat is simply too good to stay in the Minors much longer. (Photo by Ted S. Warren/AP Photo)
D.J. Peterson had himself one hell of a season in 2014. Just like Patrick Kivlehan, Peterson started the season in High Desert and finished the campaign in Jackson. Peterson was in a class by himself in High Desert, hitting .326 with 18 long balls and 73 runs batted in over 65 games. Peterson’s numbers fell off slightly after the promotion, hitting .261 with 13 homers and 38 RBI’s across 58 games in Double-A Jackson.
Peterson won the other half of the Mariners Minor League Player of the Year award in 2014, and played in the All-Star Futures game this past summer in Minnesota. The 22-year-old Gilbert, Arizona native entered 2014 as the M’s number 2 rated prospect, and that’s exactly where he sits now according to MLB.com.
Mariners General Manager, Jack Zduriencik, has already stated that Peterson will get a long look in Peoria next spring. Just like Kivlehan, Peterson may not be destined to break camp with the M’s, but also mirroring Kivlehan, a mid-season call-up to Seattle would surprise no one. Peterson is currently strutting his stuff down in Arizona for the Fall League. His right-handed power bat is extremely intriguing to management in Seattle, and the former first-round pick should make his Major League debut sometime next season.
SS Ketel Marte: 128 G, .304 AVG, .335 OBP, 4 HR, 55 RBI, 29 SB
Ketel Marte has flown through the Mariners system, reaching Triple-A Tacoma at just 20-years-old. Marte is a speedy, slick fielding shortstop who could earn a September call-up. (Photo by Jeff Roush)
Ketel Marte was hotter than a boiling kettle this season, splitting his time between the Jackson Generals and the Tacoma Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League. Marte started the season with the Generals, and he excelled in the Southern League hitting .302 with 2 home runs, 46 RBI’s, and 23 stolen bases in 109 games. Although, Marte only played 19 games in Triple-A Tacoma, they were 19 impressive games. The switch-hitting shortstop hit .313 with 2 home runs, 9 runs batted in and 6 steals for the Rainiers.
Marte really improved in all aspects of his game in 2014, and he was rewarded for his efforts with the Mariners Heart and Soul Award. Ketel entered the season as the M’s 16th rated prospect on MLB.com, and he exited the 2014 season as the club’s number 8 prospect.
Marte is a nifty fielder with plus plus speed, and there is always an opportunity for theses types of players. I would anticipate another season in Tacoma for the 20-year-old, but he has all the makings of a top of the order bat for Seattle in the future. I think with the Mariners current situation at short, they have the luxury of being patient with Marte.
RP Carson Smith: 1-3, 2.93 ERA, 45 K, 13 BB
Carson Smith impressed management and fans alike in his brief Big League Experience in September. Smith’s 3/4 delivery makes patches hard to pick up, and when you mix that with his plus stuff he is nearly unhittable. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Carson Smith really shined in 2014. Smith made his big league debut this season in Seattle, but he spent much of the season hurling in Tacoma for the Rainiers. Smith went 1-3, with a 2.93 ERA, 45 K’s and 13 walks across 43 innings of work in Triple-A. Those numbers were good enough to warrant a promotion to the M’s on September 1st, and Smith took full advantage of the opportunity. In 8.1 innings of work, Smith went 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA, 10 strikeouts and 3 walks. Smith held opponents to a .077 batting average in Seattle.
Smith entered 2014 as the club’s number 11 prospect, and exits the season as the number 14 prospect. His ranking seems strange because of his dominance at the big league level, but we must remember that in general relief pitchers are less valued than starting pitchers in these types of rankings. I don’t think Angels superstar centerfielder, Mike Trout, views his as the 14th best M’s prospect. Carson Smith dominated Mike Trout, making him look silly chasing a slider out of the zone on September 26th.
Smith appears to be a virtual lock to make the club next spring, and he could potentially earn a significant role in the pen with a strong March. His three quarters delivery causes hitters problems, as does his 95 mph fastball, and biting slider. Smith has future set-up man written all over him, and he could even get a look at being a closer at this level.
SP Danny Hultzen: Did not play in 2014.
Danny Hultzen has had an unfortunate last 24 months, but for the first time in nearly 2 years he enters spring training healthy. Hultzen has the ability to make the Mariners in 2014, and at the very least could see some spot starts as the season progresses. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
The former no.2 overall pick from the University of Virginia missed the entire 2014 season after having major shoulder surgery on October 1st, 2013. Hultzen was billed as an advanced college southpaw, who should make the Majors quickly when he was drafted back in 2011. Hultzen was on schedule to make his big league debut last season, but his career has been derailed by injuries. Over 32 career minor league starts, Hultzen has gone 14-8 with a 2.82 ERA, but since the beginning of 2013 Danny has made just 7 starts.
Hultzen entered the 2014 season as the club’s number 14 prospect, and he ends the campaign as the number 13 prospect according to MLB.com. The torn rotator cuff injury has undoubtedly set him back a bit, but his talent is undeniable. Just 2 seasons ago he was on the cusp of making the big leagues, now he is rehabbing his way back into relevance.
Hultzen made a couple of appearances in September with the Mariners extended spring training group down in Peoria, and there were no signs of trouble. M’s General Manager, Jack Zduriencik, said Hultzen would be shut down for the winter and should be ready for Spring Training. This will be an important camp for the former top prospect, as his chances may be running out. Whether Hultzen’s destiny is to start games, or come out of the pen in relief is still to be determined. If the 24-year-old lefty can post a strong spring, it is conceivable that he could make an impact on the Mariners in 2015.
The Mariners and their fans will be hoping that Walker, Taylor, Paxton, Leone, and Jones can build on their strong rookie campaigns. There should be plenty of opportunities next season for playing time, with many positions still up for grabs.
Many of these young men played a big part in Seattle’s success in 2014, and provided the team and the fans with oodles of excitement. There is no doubt that many of the impact performers from the minor leagues this past season will have their day in the sun in the near future in the Big Leagues.
Up next will be the final installment of the season recaps (thank God). The final post will discuss the impact of the team on the fan base, and the city as a whole. Keep checking back as it should be up in the next few days.