With Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, the Mariners have three pitching prospects who likely will anchor their rotation for years. That time hasn't quite come, however.
The Mariners reassigned their Nos. 2, 3 and 5 prospects along with 12 others to Minor League camp on Sunday. The moves came one day after the trio combined with fellow prospect Erasmo Ramirez to limit the Diamondbacks to one run over eight innings.
"It was an awesome experience as a whole," Hultzen told MLB.com. "It was awesome to play with these guys and it's given me a lot of confidence I can go out and do the job. I just need to keep getting better. I realize there's a lot of work I still need to do."
Hultzen was selected second overall in year's Draft, while Walker was named the Mariners' Minor League Pitcher of the Year after posting a 2.89 ERA for Class A Clinton. Paxton put together a 2.37 ERA between Clinton and Double-A Jackson.
The three first pitched in a "B" squad game against the Reds, then impressed in their Cactus League debuts on Saturday. They combined to limit the D-backs to two hits over five frames while striking out seven.
"It was hard to not sit there with a big smile on your face," Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis told MLB.com. "They're young from an experience standpoint. So you know about their stuff, but you're uncertain what you're going to get ... great atmosphere, their first night game, at that facility, Arizona, all that. But those kids pitched like they'd been there forever. It was a lot of fun to watch, it really was."
Hultzen, Walker, Paxton and Ramirez spent most of their time together at big league camp, apparently becoming fast friends. From Willis' standpoint, the camaraderie was good too see.
"I'm not comparing them, but I have this vision of seeing Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux on the cover of 'Sports Illustrated,' playing golf together," he said. "They help each other. I just think it's a fluky thing. I didn't plan on them to gain that bond, but I think it's good. I'm hearing they go out to eat together, they cheer for each other and it's huge because they have the potential to be together for a long time, one of these days."
Although Hultzen, Walker and Paxton only received a few opportunities to show their stuff this spring, they made a positive impression on the M's. According to Willis, the trio's talent and poise were more than apparent.
"We saw good things in the 'B' game against Cincinnati [earlier in the week]," the former Major League pitcher said. "But to see them go out in that atmosphere [against Arizona] and almost step it up a notch but yet be very much under control, it speaks a lot. Because they're going to have another first time one of these days and it's a bit of an indication of how they're going to handle it."