Pitching is important in baseball. I would say more so than hitting, but since I haven’t watched a real offense is a few years I could be biased. Young pitching is also very good, not only as trade bait (sorry Michael Pineda) but also because it is cheap, and the pitchers can improve with more playing time. It just so happens that the M’s have a plethora of young pitching in their farm system. While all five of the players I’ll describe won’t wear a Mariner uniform in 2012, their development could be the most important part of the 2012 season. Sorry Chone Figgins, nobody cares if you suddenly learn not to suck. The five names you should commit to memory are Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Hector Noesi and Erasmo Ramirez. I will break these five down, and rank them. Since we are Way Out in Left Field, I will rank them based on Will Ferrell movies, it will make sense when I explain my choice for each player.
Danny Hultzen LHP
The second overall draft pick in 2011 is the only player on the list that I’ve had the pleasure of watching in person. Of course, it was the Arizona Fall League, but still, he looked good. I don’t recall the exact line he had that day but what I do remember is his maturity. Many young, talented pitchers want to strikeout every batter they face. They want to make the hitter look stupid and often will go deep into counts with that goal in mind. Hultzen is different; he beat hitters by making them hit the pitch he wanted them to. This resulted in quick innings and a low pitch count. Of course, his stuff is good enough to get tons of strikeouts, (he holds the career record at University of Virginia), but he loves to pound the zone and change speeds. His change up is excellent and his fastball sits in the low 90’s, but with his arm angle, it has some movement and deception, which makes it much better. While this is his first year in the M’s system, he is one of the more developed arms they have and could make an appearance in Safeco by the end of the year if he doesn’t get shut down in fear of over-working his arm.
The Will Ferrell movie I would compare Hultzen to is Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. How does that work you ask? Well he is the safe pick and while his ceiling isn’t as high as some, he should make the MLB club and make an impact as a second or third starter. Ricky Bobby is a reliable movie; NASCAR is really easy to make fun of and while it isn’t up to the standard of Anchorman, it’s always good for some laughs. How can you not enjoy Will Ferrell thinking he is paralyzed playing wheelchair basketball and getting stabbed with two knives? How can you not enjoy a tall lefty with plus off-speed stuff who could make the major leagues by the end of the year?
Taijuan Walker RHP
What is there to say about Taijuan Walker that is negative? He throws hard, he is big and he is developing some nasty off-speed stuff. Oh right, he is only 19. He is only in single A ball, but watch out for him. He has all the tools that make up a dominant number one starter. His command hasn’t been great, with over 3.5 walks per nine innings in his two years in the system. But he also struck out 10.5 batters per nine innings last year. Of course, at 19, he still has plenty of room to grow and mature so we probably won’t see him in Safeco for a while, but in 2014 or 2015 look for his name. His height can make his command difficult to maintain, but if he can do that, he will be excellent.
This Will Ferrell movie has to be Anchorman. An instant classic that has almost no down side, Walker has the potential to be one of the best pitchers in the league, much like Ron Burgundy was the best character Ferrell has ever played, Bill Ray “Rojo” Johnson excluded. Look it up on YouTube.
James Paxton LHP
Paxton was a draft pick that fell to the M’s after he went through some legal issues with the NCAA. Not Josh Lueke legal issues, but some weird thing about draft picks not signing and then going back to school. I tried to read an article on it but got bored, so you can look it up if you want to. Anyway, Paxton is another one of the tall power arms in the system. His fastball is in the mid-90’s, which is really good for a lefty. He has a pretty good change-up and curveball. Oh yeah, and he struck out almost 12 batters per nine innings last year in AA. I wouldn’t say that he should make the roster straight out of camp this year. But maybe mid-season if he dominates Tacoma like he has AA we could see him in Seattle. Of course, he does have a down side; like many tall pitchers his control is not excellent. He has averaged about 3 walks per nine innings at every stop on his minor league career. I’m not too worried about it; he has the stuff to be a dominant second starter and has drawn some comparisons to Michael Pineda.
Some of you may disagree with this pick, but I would call Paxton Blades of Glory. Chaz Michael Michaels is one of Ferrell’s greatest characters, and while Paxton isn’t addicted to sex (to my knowledge), he is a great talent. There are some problems, but its nothing a Rob Corddry cameo, a failed pick up attempt on Nancy Kerrigan and some mascot abuse can’t fix.
Hector Noesi RHP
The forgotten piece of the Pineda-Montero trade, Noesi isn’t too shabby a talent himself. When he came to the M’s, I wasn’t super excited about what I read about him. A tall righty with decent stuff and pretty solid command, he looked like a number three or four starter. His fastball was supposed to be in the low 90’s with an above average changeup, a slider and a curveball. Neither of his breaking pitches were supposed to be anything interesting. However, in his first start for the M’s in Peoria he consistently hit 96. There are a few interesting things about this. First of all, 96 is fast. He was not supposed to be able to throw 96 when we got him. Second of all, he was not throwing many pitches so this number could be inflated. Third of all, this is Spring Training, so he is supposed to be getting ready for the season, so this number could be low since he’s supposed to be getting his arm in game shape. Analyze however you will, I am going to look at it as a positive. I’ll reiterate, 96 is fast. I recently drove to and from Las Vegas and while respecting all traffic laws and whatever, I only came close to 96. I really want him to start the year in Seattle as a back of the rotation guy. Of course, Wedge could have different plans. And since Patrick supposedly isn’t Eric Wedge, I can’t attest to this, I haven’t seen them in the same room at the same time, he could start the year in AAA. Hopefully he shows up before long and keeps throwing 96.
Noesi would be a pretty good Kicking and Screaming. I had low hopes for this movie; Ferrell yelling at kids and being racist looked promising, but I felt it would get old. When I first saw it, I wasn’t blown away, but it grew on me and it’s a pretty good movie in my mind. It also is a contributing reason why I don’t drink coffee. Noesi isn’t going to be a number one starter but he could be a reliable number four.
Erasmo Ramirez RHP
Yeah, there’s a guy named Erasmo in the M’s system. The first time I heard about him was when he put up an 85/1 strikeout to walk ratio in the Venezuelan League a few years ago. You may look at that and envision the next Randy Johnson and wonder why he’s not starting in Seattle right now. Well, the Venezuelan League is notorious for having free-swingers, like Carlos Peguero free-swinging. Also Ramirez’s stuff is pretty boring. Not boring like triple integrals in different coordinate systems, but boring like easily forgettable. Wait, so are triple integrals in different coordinate systems, damn you Erasmo. His fastball sits around 90, his changeup is above average and he has a slider. Now you may ask how he put up an 85/1 K to BB ratio. Well, his command is superb. And the Venezuelan league has a lot of free-swingers. Unfortunately, his command can fail him sometimes and he gets rocked since his stuff isn’t overpowering. I personally am not a big fan of his. But he can be an effective number five starter who eats innings and pounds the zone.
Ramirez is Land of the Lost, not very good on paper. Will Ferrell plus dinosaurs didn’t impress me at all. However, I would choose to watch this over any Colin Farrell movie. That’s not much of a ringing endorsement, since I don’t know if I would rather do triple integrals in different coordinate systems than watch a Colin Farrell movie.
So those are the five young prospects that the M’s hope will be able to inherit the legacy of King Felix and carry it on to better places. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, of course, and each could get injured or go Hong-Chih Kuo on us. Don’t worry; I’m knocking on wood, just ask the girl across the table from me. She looks pissed; I think I’ve knocked enough. Look for these names in 2012, 2013 and 2014. They will make an impact and could be one of the best rotations in baseball. Suck it Phillies, Rays, Rangers and Angels. I don’t know which rotation is going to be the best. And two are in the AL West, and the M’s have a terrible offense. I could use a hug from Snowflake right now. Go M’s.