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Mariners impress with quintet of top prospects

SEATTLE -- Led by 20-year-old right-hander Taijuan Walker, the Mariners placed five players in's Top 100 Prospects list for 2013 that was released Tuesday night, as Seattle had the highest-ranked group as a team in the Major Leagues.

In addition to Walker, who was No. 5 overall, the Mariners' premier prospects were left-hander Danny Hultzen (No. 18), catcher Mike Zunino (23), shortstop Nick Franklin (47) and left-hander James Paxton (61).

Based on a point system giving 100 for the No. 1 overall prospect, 99 for No. 2 and so on down the line, the Mariners received 351 points for their five prospects among the Top 100. The Cardinals were second in that scoring system with 340 points, followed by the Rays (310), Twins (295) and Marlins (281).

The annual ranking of baseball's biggest and brightest young talent is assembled by's Draft and prospect expert Jonathan Mayo, who compiles input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, closeness to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. The list, which is one of several prospect rankings on's Prospect Watch, only includes players with rookie status in 2013.

For the Mariners, it's another affirmation of the quality of top young talent coming up in the organization as they continue building up their Minor League system. All five of those prospects spent time with Double-A Jackson last season, with Hultzen and Franklin finishing the season at Triple-A Tacoma.

All five have been invited to the upcoming Major League Spring Training camp, which opens Feb. 12 with pitchers and catchers reporting, as the quintet helps form a nucleus for a promising future.

"I think about that all the time, actually," Franklin said at last weekend's Mariners FanFest at Safeco Field. "Even last year with the Jackson team, it was like, 'Wow, we've got a good group of guys.' And we still have a good group coming up. There are prospects everywhere, and the big league team is starting to come around. So I'm really looking forward to it."

The strength of the organization lies with its young pitching prospects. Walker was the second pitcher on the Top 100 list, trailing only Dylan Bundy of the Orioles (No. 2 overall). Hultzen was the ninth-ranked pitcher and No. 2 left-hander, while Paxton was the fifth southpaw on the list.

Zunino, the No. 2 catching prospect, had a chance to work with Walker and Paxton last year after being promoted to Jackson for the final few weeks following his first-round selection out of the University of Florida.

"Oh man, with Taijuan and Paxton, they're something else," said the 21-year-old Zunino. "They've got great arms and I'm extremely excited to catch them down the road. To be where they are already, with the arms they have, is something else. The whole pitching in the organization is extremely bright."

Zunino is familiar with Hultzen from the lefty's career at Virginia prior to being Seattle's top Draft pick in 2011 with the No. 2 overall selection. Zunino was the No. 3 overall pick last June.

"I've seen Hultzen pitch in the College World Series, when we were there also," Zunino said. "Everything I've heard is good stuff about him, too, so that's a guy I'm looking forward to catching as well."

Zunino made a quick impression with his limited time in Class A Everett and then Jackson last season, as well as in the Arizona Fall League, where he worked again with Paxton this offseason.

"He's a really good catcher," Paxton said. "He calls the game really well. From when he first came to Jackson to the end of the season, he learned a lot. He receives the ball really well, and we all know he can hit. He's got good chemistry with the pitchers. He comes out and talks to us and knows what to say. He's a really good guy and really good catcher."

After being named the Mariners' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2011, Walker didn't post overwhelming numbers last season as he went 7-10 with 4.89 ERA in 25 starts for Jackson. But he was one of the youngest players in the league, turning 20 in mid-August, and struck out 118 batters in 126 2/3 innings.

Hultzen, 23, was overpowering at Jackson, going 8-3 with a 1.19 ERA in 13 starts before wearing down in Tacoma at the end of his first year in pro ball. He went 1-4 with a 5.92 ERA in 12 starts in Triple-A.

Paxton, 24, spent the full season in Jackson and was 9-4 with a 3.05 ERA in 21 starts. He missed about five weeks with a sore knee in midseason, but went 6-1 with a 2.40 ERA in his final 11 starts.

Franklin, 21, hit .322 with four home runs and 26 RBIs in 57 games with Jackson, and then .243 with seven homers and 29 RBIs in Tacoma.

After signing in early July, Zunino hit .373 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs in 29 games with Everett, then .333 with three homers and eight RBIs in 15 games with Jackson.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.

Seattle Mariners, Nick Franklin, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Mike Zunino