Tacoma rotation crammed full of top prospects

Contributing writerJune 30, 2013 

James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, Brandon Maurer, Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen.

The Tacoma Rainiers debuted their all-prospect starting rotation June 22 when Walker was promoted from Double-A Jackson and Hultzen was activated from the disabled list.

All five pitchers are considered future major leaguers (Maurer and Ramirez have already pitched in the big leagues), and the Seattle Mariners have high hopes for the group as a whole.

For a little while – and it could be a very short time – fans can go to Cheney Stadium and be guaranteed to see a top prospect on the mound. However, future success for the members of the Rainiers’ rotation is not certain.

A look at previous prospect-laden Tacoma rotations shows some success and some failure.

The most comparable rotation in recent history belonged to the 2004 Rainiers. Bobby Madritsch, Clint Nageotte, Travis Blackley, Matt Thornton and Cha Seung Baek were all young, mostly in their first Triple-A season and had high expectations.

Madritsch had a brief but successful run with the Mariners before shoulder injuries ended his career, and Nageotte was also waylaid by injuries. Blackley took a roundabout route to the majors and finally established himself as a big leaguer in Oakland last season. Baek topped out as a fifth starter, and Thornton – the big success from this group – became an All-Star reliever in 2010.

Another Tacoma rotation full of hyped prospects was the 2000 group of Joel Piñeiro, Ryan Anderson, Ken Cloude, Ryan Franklin and Pat Ahearne.

Piñeiro and Franklin went on to have long, successful major league careers – Piñeiro won 104 games, and Franklin became an All-Star closer for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2009.

Cloude and Anderson both suffered career-ending injuries, and Ahearne was a back-of-the-rotation veteran who did not return to the majors.

Longtime Tacoma fans may recall the 1992 Tacoma Tigers with a starting rotation of Todd Van Poppel, Jeff Musselman, Dave Zancanaro, Joe Slusarski and Reggie Harris.

Van Poppel was the most hyped pitching prospect of the 1990s, although his big league career never lived up to expectations.

Van Poppel pitched in all or parts of 11 major league seasons, going 40-52 with a 5.58 ERA.

Recent Tacoma starting pitchers to go on to success in the majors were not accompanied by other top prospects in the rotation.

In 2005, Felix Hernandez was surrounded by Triple-A veterans such as Andrew Lorraine, Damian Moss, Baek and Jesse Foppert.

The 2009 Rainiers had Doug Fister and Brandon Morrow in the rotation, but the rest of the starters weren’t considered top prospects.

AQUASOX JUGGERNAUT

While Tacoma fans can expect to see a pitching prospect at every game, Everett AquaSox fans can expect to see something else: a win nearly every day.

The Mariners’ short-season affiliate in the Class-A Northwest League has opened the season 14-2 despite never scoring more than six runs in a game.

DJ Peterson, the Mariners’ 2013 first-round draft pick, connected for a grand slam Friday – his second in two weeks as a professional.

Mike Curto is the radio broadcaster for the Tacoma Rainiers.

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