This offseason, MiLB.com is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organizations. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.
The time for general manager Jack Zduriencik and the Mariners front office appears to be now. A big money contract (Robinson Cano) signaled the change, but while a big trade or two could still be on the horizon, the bulk of Zduriencik's cavalry are likely to be homegrown products.
Building a farm system strong in reputation hasn't been an issue during Zduriencik's five-year tenure. The team has boasted a number of elite prospects either signed or acquired prior to Major League establishment, with players like Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak, Mike Zunino, Nick Franklin, Michael Pineda and Taijuan Walker having gone from top-notch prospect to big contributor. Some of those stories, obviously, have been more successful than others. Such is the world of player development.
The cupboard isn't barren though. Walker still has his prospect eligibility and behind him, a number of players either bolstered or maintained their prospect status in 2013. Reinforcements are en route, with pleasant surprises like Brad Miller and Kyle Seager already established in the Majors, 2013 draftee D.J. Peterson looking like a potential monster in the making, and formerly unheralded hitters like Ji-Man Choi and Jabari Blash emerging as potential big league pieces. They, along with a deep group of pitchers headlined by Walker and backed by Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Tyler Pike and Luiz Gohara, have the future in Seattle looking promising.
Many of those names were so impressive in 2013 that they made piecing together the Mariners' Organizational All-Stars a relatively simple task. Equally encouraging for M's fans is how many of those top performers played at the highest Minor League levels.
Mariners Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Tyler Marlette, Clinton (75 games): When Seattle picked up Marlette in the fifth round of the 2011 Draft, his calling card was his power, while the rest of his game figured to require refining. The power has yet to translate, but everything else has progressed. As MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo noted in ranking Marlette the No. 12 prospect in the Mariners system, his defense. Offensively, he's shown the ability to hit for average, posting a .304 mark with an .815 OPS as a LumberKing this past season. With six homers and 17 doubles in 270 at-bats, there's also room to improve going forward.
First base -- Ji-Man Choi, High Desert (48 games), Jackson (61 games), Tacoma (13 games): Choi elevated himself from a relative unknown to a Futures Game participant and likely Major Leaguer with a stellar 2013 campaign. Signed in 2009, the 22-year-old South Korean erupted across three levels, posting a 1.045 OPS in hitter-friendly High Desert before managing an impressive .862 in pitcher-friendly Jackson. Choi slugged a pair of homers in his first taste of Triple-A and may reach Seattle in 2014 with a bat that could play at first.
"He understands what he needs to do to get better," Jackson hitting coach Cory Snyder said. "I think the biggest thing is to understand what he does good and stick with it. He doesn't chase too many pitches. He's got a better understanding of 'This is what the pitcher throws, this is what I can hit and what I can't hit.' He's doing a lot better job of laying off the ones he can't really drive."
Second base -- Ty Kelly, Tacoma (54 games): Acquired from the Orioles on June 30 in a trade for Marcus Thames, Kelly jumped from the Double-A Eastern League to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League nd became one of Tacoma's best hitters. The 2009 13th-round pick batted .320 with a .456 on-base percentage backed by an impressive 41-to-51 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 197 at-bats. The University of California-Davis product hit only three homers with the Rainiers but could reach the Majors on the strength of his on-base skills alone, having posted consecutive .400-plus OBP seasons.
Third base -- D.J. Peterson, Everett (29 games), Clinton (26 games): The 12th overall pick in the 2013 Draft was sensational in his debut, raking baseballs in stints with short-season Everett and Class A Clinton. In 55 games, the University of New Mexico product clubbed 13 homers with a .303 average and .918 OPS. Peterson's bat draws rave reviews, with Mayo tossing potential plus grades on his hit and power tools while ranking him third among Seattle prospects.
Peterson's season ended on Aug. 23 when he was struck in the jaw by a fastball. The 21-year-old tweeted on Oct. 14 that he was fully recovered, saying, "After two long months finally got cleared for full activity. Very thankful for all those who wished me well. Excited to get back. #blessed."
Honorable Mention: It's rare that a Minor Leaguer playing most of his season outside the United States earns recognition here, but rare was the campaign 19-year-old Yordi Calderon pieced together primarily in the Venezuelan Summer League. While spending time at third, first and the outfield, Calderon batted .343 with 11 homers and a 1.038 OPS in 68 games, adding 20 doubles and 16 stolen bases. So impressive was he that Seattle brought him stateside to end the season, giving him 12 games in the Rookie-level Arizona League and even a one-game stint with Pulaski in the Appalachian League.
Shortstop -- Brad Miller, Jackson (42 games), Tacoma (26 games), Seattle (76 games): Miller broke through as a regular contributor for the Mariners in 2013 but not before adding a few more impressive marks to his Minor League resume. The left-handed hitter batted .319 in 68 games across Double-A and Triple-A, bopping 12 homers while posting a .399 OBP and .920 OPS. The season continued a trend of consistent offensive success.
A shortstop since his days at Clemson, Miller also worked at second base this season, with hopes that a little versatility would boost his value in the big leagues.
"It's been fun," Miller said of trying a new position. "I still picture myself as a shortstop because that's where I've always played. But being able to move around can only help me."
Jabari Blash, High Desert (80 games), Jackson (29 games): Blash began the season in the California League and bashed 16 homers in 283 at-bats, posting a .258 average and an .864 OPS. After being promoted to Double-A, he unleashed on Southern League pitching with nine homers in 97 at-bats, hitting .309 with a 1.060 OPS. The 6-foot-5, 224-pound slugger's 25 overall homers marked a career high, as did his .915 OPS and .271 average.
The 24-year-old said late in the season that consistency was a big reason for the success.
"I think as a hitter I've made tremendous progress, actually, in just being more consistent, staying with my approach," he said. "As of late, I've been getting a lot of success out of that. My biggest problem was always consistency and now I'm actually almost there to completely fixing that."
Abraham Almonte, Jackson (29 games), Tacoma (94 games): Almonte, a 5-foot-9 native of the Dominican Republic, jump-started his season by hitting for the cycle at Double-A, then dominated at Triple-A and played his way up to the Major Leagues. In the PCL, the 24-year-old batted .314 with a .403 OBP, .894 OPS and 20 steals in 27 attempts. A switch-hitter, he hit 17 homers, including 11 in 338 at-bats with Tacoma, and posted a .264 average in 25 games with the big club.
In addition to those statistical accolades, Almonte took home some end-of-season hardware, earning Seattle's Heart and Soul Award for his exemplary play and leadership.
Julio Morban, Jackson (86 games): The 2008 signee out of the Dominican Republic left the comforts of the California League in 2013 but continued to mash the ball, batting .295 with an .830 OPS in the pitcher-friendly Southern League. Plagued by injuries for much of his career, Morban had his season end in August when he broke his leg sliding into second base.
The 21-year-old can play all three outfield spots, though Jackson manager Jim Pankovits used him mostly in right early in the year as he played through a mild leg injury.
"We didn't want him to do as much running in center, but I'm told center field may be just as strong of a position for him," Pankovits said. "He has the arm strength to play them all, it's just a matter of being healthy and running [fly balls] down."
Honorable Mention: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009, Franklin Pierce product Kevin Rivers found his offensive stroke while turning 25 in the Class A Advanced California League, where he hit .297 with an .896 OPS. He slugged 20 homers and added 36 doubles in 485 at-bats.
Utility -- Chris Taylor, High Desert (67 games), Jackson (67 games): With his 134-game season split evenly between the California and Southern leagues, Taylor displayed a promising plate approach and a threatening set of wheels. After his promotion to Double-A, the shortstop began taking more reps at second base, where he may end up long-term. As a General, Taylor batted .293 with a .391 OBP and .774 OPS; he swiped 38 bases across the two levels.
So impressive was the breakout campaign the 2012 fifth-round pick that the Mariners named him their Minor League Player of the Year.
Right-handed pitcher -- Taijuan Walker, Jackson (14 games), Tacoma (11 games), Seattle (three games): Walker began the year as one of the Minor Leagues' most promising pitching prospects and ended it in the Majors. The 21-year-old posted a 2.46 ERA with 96 strikeouts over 84 innings at Double-A, then compiled a 3.61 ERA in 11 starts with Tacoma. In total, Walker struck out 160 over 141 1/3 Minor League innings, limiting opponents to a .217 average.
He earned rave reviews from Rainiers catcher Jason Jaramillo -- a Major League veteran -- after his Triple-A debut in June.
"I've had the opportunity to be around a lot of special pitchers, but tonight you got to see one of the really good ones," Jaramillo said. "He's got the composure, he's got the stuff, he's got the talent, he's really blessed. Just being around him a couple of days now, he's special."
Honorable Mentions: Already a unique story, South African Dylan Unsworth jumped to full-season ball and showed a knack for finding the strike zone, compiling a 46-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 66 innings in 11 starts. Clinton teammate Victor Sanchez also was very effective, posting a 2.78 ERA in 20 starts as an 18-year-old. In Pulaski, Edwin Diaz boasted a 1.43 ERA and 79-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 69 innings.
Left-handed pitcher -- James Paxton, Tacoma (28 games), Seattle (four games): The 2010 fourth-round pick completed his journey to the big leagues in 2013 on the strength of some dominant Triple-A performances. His 4.45 ERA with the Rainiers wasn't reflective of his effectiveness, as he also had a 3.55 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitcher, per Fangraphs) with 131 strikeouts and 58 walks over 145 2/3 innings.
In four Major League starts, Paxton flashed his electric stuff and posted a 1.50 ERA with 21 strikeouts and seven walks over 24 innings.
Reliever -- Carson Smith, Jackson (44 games): Smith, who turned 24 in October, was electric at the back of the Generals bullpen in 2013, converting 15 save opportunities while posting a 1.80 ERA over 50 innings. The 6-foot-6 right-hander struck out 71 and walked 17 while allowing just one homer and limiting foes to a .183 batting average. A starter at Texas State, the 2011 eighth-round pick has found his niche as a hard-throwing, side-arming reliever with a nasty sinker-slider combination.