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Taylor continues his impressive '13 in AFL

Mariners' Minor League Player of the Year stood out among prospects in Arizona

SEATTLE -- After being selected as the Mariners' Minor League Player of the Year, shortstop Chris Taylor did nothing to diminish his rising status this offseason as he put together a strong showing in the just-completed Arizona Fall League.

Taylor, 23, hit .294 with a .351 on-base percentage in 18 games for the Peoria Javelinas. His batting average was the second highest on Peoria, trailing only the .308 of Cory Spangenberg, a 2011 first-round Draft pick of the Padres.

Taylor, the No. 5 rated Mariners prospect by, opened a lot of eyes by hitting .314 with 47 extra-base hits, 108 runs and 38 stolen bases for Class A High Desert and Double-A Jackson this past year.

"He's pretty steady. That's what he is," said Mariners Minor League coordinator Chris Gwynn. "We were happy to see it. He's probably pretty tired after playing this long this year in the middle of the diamond, but he keeps on impressing and we'll keep pushing him and see where it ends up."

Taylor was a fifth-round Draft pick out of Virginia in 2012 and has moved quickly through the organization by impressing both with his glove and bat.

"He's a young infielder, a shortstop that still has a lot to learn," Gwynn said. "But he's really smooth, with an easy gait to how he does everything. And he's pretty athletic, too. So he's just going through things everybody does as Minor Leaguer. He'll make his errors and have lapses now and then, but that's normal. Brad Miller had the same stuff. But most of time, he's in the middle of everything, and offensively, he's getting on, stealing a base, driving in runs, moving guys over. He's just a smart player."

The Mariners' two other position players in the AFL didn't put up as good of numbers, but Gwynn said both outfielder Stefen Romero and third baseman Patrick Kivlehan benefitted greatly from the chance to play against top prospects from all 30 Major League teams.

Romero, the Mariners' 2012 Minor League Player of the Year, hit .212 with two home runs and six RBIs in 19 games and also hit a pair of homers in the AFL Fall Stars Game while continuing his transition to the outfield after getting drafted as an infielder out of Oregon State.

Romero overcame a slow start, raising his average from .125 by going 10-for-34 (.294) with five RBIs over his last 10 games.

"It was good for him because he was working on some things," Gwynn said. "He had a pretty good Triple-A season once he got healthy. Changing positions was probably a big mental deal for him. I'd imagine he'd still tell you he has a lot to learn out there. But he's a good player, a right-hander with some power and a tough, hard-nosed type kid.

"He hit those two home runs in the All-Star Game and he usually does rise to the occasion," said Gwynn. "When he reports to Spring Training, I expect him to be ready and make a push to make positive imprint on the new coaching staff."

Kivlehan hit just .164 in 18 games as a roster replacement for 2013 first-round Draft pick DJ Peterson, whose jaw was broken by a pitch late in the regular season. Kivlehan hit .320 for High Desert last year, but this was a pretty big jump in competition for the former Rutgers University defensive back.

"This was good exposure for him, no doubt," said Gwynn. "You think about where he was a couple years ago, just making the decision to stop playing football. So, wow. He's a kid that plays hard and is understanding the game better as he goes. He's just making up ground. I don't know where he ends up as far as a position, but right now he's done everything we've asked. I know he'd have liked to do better, but it's eye opening playing with those guys and a good reminder of what it takes."

On the pitching side, right-hander Brandon Maurer went 1-2 with a 5.95 ERA in six starts as he continued his development as a starting contender in the organization. Maurer, 23, made 14 starts for the Mariners last year after jumping straight from Jackson to the big leagues.

Gwynn said the AFL provided more time for Maurer to continue his maturation.

"He was just working on his control and believing in his fastball and using it to both sides of the plate," Gwynn said. "A couple years ago he was in Double-A as probably a fifth starter on that staff and nobody knew him. He turned it on pretty good that year, had a lights-out Spring Training and then struggled a little. He found out guys in the big leagues are really good and you have to make all your pitches. But I think when he sits down now, he'll have some really good lessons to draw from. We all like him. He's young and has a great arm."

The Mariners are also high on hard-throwing relievers Dominic Leone and Carson Smith. Leone led the AFL with six saves and had a 3.00 ERA with 15 strikeouts and one walk in 12 innings over 11 appearances.

Smith was shut down after posting a 12.60 ERA in five outings following a strong season with Jackson when he put up a 1.80 ERA with 15 saves in 44 games. Leone opened the year with High Desert, then finished up alongside Smith in the Jackson bullpen and combined for 16 saves with a 2.25 ERA.

"He was a starter in college, but we moved him to the 'pen and his velocity jumped," Gwynn said. "When I saw him in High Desert, he was throwing 96-98 mph and overpowering the league. We sent him to Double-A and he didn't miss a beat. He's got to understand, just like Smith, that location is 95 percent of it. You've got to locate the ball. But we're really proud of both of them.

"Smith was shut down because of his innings," said Gwynn. "His innings are hard because he comes in and lets it fly. But he had a great year and we're looking for big things from both of those guys."

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