With the start of the major and minor league baseball seasons (excluding games played in Japan that no one watches) set to start next week, rosters for teams across all levels are beginning to shape up.
The biggest question involving the High Desert Mavericks and their roster is whether or not the Mariners would assign elite pitching prospects Danny Hultzen and Taijuan Walker to High Desert or skip them over the hitter-friendly California League and ridiculously hitter-friendly Stater Bros. Stadium.
Walker is ranked the No. 20 and Hultzen the No. 21 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America.
I spoke with Mavericks manager Pedro Grifol tonight and he said he could not comment on where Hultzen and Walker are likely to start the season.
However, Baseball America’s Connor Glassey tweeted a few days ago that Walker and Hultzen, along with fellow top pitching prospect James Paxton, will likely begin at Double-A Jackson.
Hultzen started a Double-A spring training game today. Walker’s sister recently tweeted from Bossier City, La., expressing excitement that he was going to be pitching close to her. According to Google maps, Bossier City is about seven hours from Jackson.
It would be an aggressive move to begin both of them at Double-A.
Walker has been compared to a young Dwight Gooden and fans have excitedly wondered if he could pitch in the big leagues this season.
But the fact is his entire professional career thus far consists of seven innings in Rookie League and 96 2-3 impressive innings at Single-A Clinton. He will also be only 19 years old during almost the whole season. Every pitcher who threw even an inning last year in Jackson was at least 21 years old by the end of the season.
Hultzen is a different story because he is 22 and was extremely successful in college, eventually becoming the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft.
However, Hultzen signed just before the deadline and didn’t pitch until a successful run in the postseason Arizona Fall League.
The Mariners haven’t had a consistent history with sending top pitching prospects to High Desert. Brandon Morrow was not only skipped over High Desert, but skipped over everything when he jumped from Rookie ball to the majors (He did pitch three innings in Hi-A when the Mariners were affiliated with Inland Empire). Morrow was a bit like Hultzen. A highly drafted college pitcher who was in his early 20′s in his first full professional season. Michael Pineda was more like Walker, a younger, even more highly touted arm. He spent his age-20 season in High Desert in 2009.
We will see shortly where the Mariners decide to send their two young top prospects. But it seems like signs are pointing to both Hultzen and Walker donning a Jackson Generals uniform come opening day, disappointing many hopeful Mavericks fans.