Inside The Park

Baseball\’s Future in the Emerald City

Seattle Mariners Prospects 31-40

Posted by JasonAChurchill on March 8, 2006

I have had requests to go further than 40 in order to profile specific players, so 41-50 will go up tomorrow night.


31. Francisco Cruceta, RHP –
Cruceta was claimed off waivers last summer fromt he Cleveland Indians and played a role in the Tacoma Rainiers’ division title run. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander has pretty solid stuff, headlined by a solid splitter and a 91-94 mph fastball. Command and consistency has been Cruceta’s problems but at 24, the Dominican native has the arsenal to become at least an average starter. He does have the power pitches to be effective in the bullpen as well and could see time in either role with the Rainiers


32. Scott Atchison, RHP – Atchison needs to stay healthy in order to stay on the M’s radar, but his time in the bigs has been fruitful, despite a high ERA last season. If the 28-year-old former 49th rounder can stay off the DL, he may find himself in the M’s bullpen by midseason. Atchison sits 89-92 with his fastball and possesses a pretty good curve ball. His 45 strikeouts in just 37 career MLB innings are very encouraging.


33. Natanael Mateo, RHP – Mateo’s stuff rivals the ’05 version of Julio Mateo, no relation, but without the control and consistency. Natanael, 25, may begin the year in Triple-A with a chance for a late-season callup. But he must remain consistent and avoid stretches of mediocrity – see: Mateo’s stint with San Antonio post trade. Mateo has a 90-92 mph fastball, an average curve and a change up that can be effective at times.


34. Jeff Flaig, OF – Flaig was a shortstop in high school, moved to third in his first taste of pro ball, slid to first base last season to help his surgically repaired right arm heal and will likely begin 2006 in left field with Wisconsin where his bat may play better. Flaig has solid plate skills but average power potential that does not project well for a corner infielder. Better plate discipline is necessary but Flaig has it in him to be a decent prospect and go year to year.


35. Jason Snyder, RHP – Snyder features a 90-93 mph fastball, a plus curve ball and continues to work on his changeup, but had his ’05 season cut short due to a shoulder injury. At 6-foot-6, Snyder has the physical makeup of an innings eater and may be the late bloomer that sneaks up on the big leagues and has a productive career. The 23-year-old may begin the year with Class AA San Antonio – if he’s healthy enough to compete for the spot. Otherwise, he’ll start in the Cal League and work his way up. Snyder has two big-league pitches and just needs health and consistency to advance.


36. Greg Halman, OF – Halman is a big, strong Dutchman with advanced plate discipline for a kid that didn’t turn 18 until August of last year. At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, Halman has the raw tools to develop some good power and move consistently through the system. His .449 slugging percentage was the highest in the Rookie League for a qualifying player under 18. Halman should get a chance for some time in Everett. Look for him in either corner outfield spot, though his throwing arm is erratic and his instincts are currently below average.


37. Cesar Jimenez, LHP – Jimenez, as a starter, would be ranked higher. In relief, his 85-87 mph fastball and plus changeup aren’t enough to stay effective in the long term versus experienced bats. The Venezuelan is Felix Hernandez’s best friend in the organization and should follow his buddy’s footsteps in the ways of working hard and not taking anything for granted. Jimenez could develop into a back-end starter but he doesn’t currently hold much value as a relief arm. At 21, he still has time to start fresh as a starting pitcher.


38. Sean Green, RHP – Green, 26, is a short reliever with strong groundball abilities. With the growing appreciation for groundball pitchers, Green could gain some attention from other clubs. He finished 2005 with a combined G/F ratio of 2.92 after posting a 3.12 mark in Class AAA Tacoma. Green will re-join the Rainiers pen to start the ’06 season.


39. Yung-Chi Chen, 2B – Chen is intriguing talent but has yet to maximize his offensive skills. The 22-year-old has major league skills to play second, short and third defensively, but his bat has yet to follow. The Taiwanese import played for Chinese Taipei in the World Baseball Cup and hit a grand slam home run versus China and had four hits in the game. He appeared overmatched against Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Japanese ace with big-league talent. Chen profiles best as a second baseman and has the speed to swipe 25+ bags a season to go with his solid defense. Look for him to play a lot of third base at Inland Empire this season, while the M’s stick with Tuiasosopo at short and Navarro at second. Though they are better off playing Navarro at short and Chen at second with Tui at third or in the outfield.


40. Shawn Nottingham, LHP – Nottingham had a stellar first year as a pro in 2004 at shortseason Everett but ran into the injury big last summer. The southpaw shares a lot of similar qualities as Travis Blackley, Nottingham’s closest friend in the system. When he’s healthy, the Ohio native reaches 86-88 with his fastball and uses a pretty solid change to get outs. His breaking ball needs work but he’s only 21 and should begin his ’06 season with Inland Empire.


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Spring Training Update: 3.08

Posted by JasonAChurchill on March 8, 2006

Some notes from early Wednesday…

RHP’s Chris Jailie and Rich Dorman were re-assigned to minor league camp and Sean Green was officially added to big league camp.

OF Chris Snelling will hit off a tee today as he builds trength and mobility in his knee… LHP Cesar Jimenez and RHP Clint Nageotte are nursing mild hamstring injuries.  Nageotte is taking the day off and Jimenez will again throw in the bullpen… 2B Fernando Vina will take more infield today and some BP.  He may play as early as Friday.
LHP Jamie Moyer is getting the start today, not Luis Gonzalez as originally scheduled.  Gonzalez will get in at least an inning of relief work.

RHP Joel Pineiro will pitch for Puerto Rico today in the World Baseball Classic.  Watch for Pineiro’s fastball attack.  Apparently he’s much more comfortable with his mix of fastballs this spring than in previous seasons.

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Seattle Mariners Prospects Nos. 11-30

Posted by JasonAChurchill on March 8, 2006

Hunter Brown is a manager's dream


11. Wladimir Balentien, OF – Balentien’s make-or-break year may be 2006 where he must make significant improvements in his plate discipline and pitch recognition. It’s okay to be a free swinger, Wlad, but you do have to make the pitcher work and cut down ont he empty plate appearances. Otherwise the 21-year-old’s power potential is a plus, possibly landing in the 30 range.


12. George Sherrill, LHP – Sherrill always starts off a bit slow, so ignore any crooked stat lines he puts up until May, including spring training. With an above average slider and a fastball that sits 88-92, Sherrill has a chance to have a pretty nice career from here on out. He’s nasty versus lefty bats (.156 BAA w/SEA in ;05) and will always have a job as long as he can neitralize the left-handers.


13. Rene Rivera, C – Rivera’s major league career will rely on his defensive skills to keep him afloat. There’s some pop in his bat, but his plate coverage is well-below average and like many 22-year-old catchers, he has trouble with the breaking ball. He has a strong throwing arm and has the skills to be an above average defender at the biog-league level. probably a career backup with a year or two as a starter a possibility in his prime.


14. Justin Thomas, LHP – Thomas ranks ahead of his fellow southpaw starters due to his above average fastball and change and a developing breaking ball. Sitting in the 87-91 range with his heater, Thomas has enough velocity to work down to his offspeed stuff. He can miss bats with his change and when he commands his breaking stuff, his fastball can be sneaky. He’ll get time in Wisconsin and/or Inland Empire this season.


15. Stephen Kahn, RHP – Kahn is a power righty that the club used exclusively in relief last summer after the 5th rounder inked a deal in July, but aren’t sure about his future. He possesses a plus fastball in the 91-94 range and curve ball that is also a plus pitch at times. But his command is average and his mechanics need some tweaking. Could be a future closer or setup man. As a starter he projects as a potential No. 3 arm. His role will determine where he begins 2006.


16. T.J. Bohn, CF – Most of Bohn’s value is wrapped in his speed and defense and the position he plays more often than not. The 6-foot-4 center fielder has a plus-plus throwing arm and the base running skills to swipe 30 bags a year. Offensively he must learn to extend his arm better to maximize his raw power. Bohn is likely a career reserve, but could be a very valuable one at that. He’ll begin the year in Triple-A Tacoma but could push for some big-league time at some point in 2006.


17. Sebastien Boucher, CF – Boucher has as much speed as anyone in the organization and displayed some pop in his stints with Wisconsin and Inland Empire. The Canandian-born 24-year-old will get his shot to prove his true value in Double-A San Antonio where he’ll likely move to left field so Adam Jones can continue to learn to play center. Boucher could be a sensational fourth outfielder in the mold of Stan Javier.


18. Ryan Feierabend, LHP – Feierabend’s peripherals scare some observers, especially the 186 hits he surrendered in just 150.2 innings of work. But the southpaw held batters to a .266 average after August 7 and his strikeout rates took a healthy spike during the second half of the season. The left-hander sits in the 86-90 mph range with his fastball, which is up from 2004. His curve ball improved greatly in ’05 giving Feierabend a reliable third pitch on top of his heater and change-up. He’s three years away, but developing nicely. Could be a No. 3 starter by 2008 or 2009.


19. Luis Valbuena, 2B – The Venezuelan led the Northwest League in homers and RBI at age 19, though his home park heavily favors the lefty bat with its short porch in right field. Valbuena has enough natural skills offensively to continue to develop into a major league hitter, but his defensive questions may hinder his advancement pace. With a thick lower trunk and average speed, he lacks range and the footwork to consistently make the plays at second base. He has time, however, and will report to Wisconsin to start the year.


20. Robert Rohrbaugh, LHP – Rohrbaugh is the most polished of arm the M’s drafted last June, showing a good, consistent fastball-changeup-curveball combo last season. After a solid stay with shortseason Everett, Rohrbuagh was called upon to help the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in the postseason, a sign that he was still fresh even after a full college season and 68 innings in the Northwest League. He’s back-end starter with average overall stuff, but there’s more in his arsenal. He’ll need it in ’06.


21. Edgar Guaramato, RHP – Guaramato just missed the Top 20 and only because he was used in relief last season. But the 21-year-old posted 38 strikeouts in 37 innings to go with his iber-impressive G/F ratio of 2.74. The Venezuelan did have control problems that led to 24 walks. In a starting role, Guaramato’s ground ball tendencies are a valuable skill and could shoot him to Inland Empire quickly. He’ll begin ’06 in Wisconsin.


22. Emiliano Fruto, RHP – Fruto, 21, was given a ton of praise this winter when Baseball America ranked him the club’s No. 8 prospect, ahead of both Clint Nageotte and Rob Johnson – even though the system is thin, those are big words. BA claimed the M’s were ‘toying’ with the idea of reinserting Fruto back into the rotation, but that’s not happening, at least this season. Fruto has an above average curve ball and change and a low-90s fastball, but is inconsistent and almost tormenting with his erratic performances. He has the stuff to be a solid setup man. If his future is as a starter, he can eat innings and become a No. 3 or 4 starter. For now, he’s the M’s first call-up when they need a pure relief arm from Tacoma.


23. Oswaldo Navarro, 2B – Navarro has great hands, solid range and near-perfect footwork, making him among the best defensive middle infielders in the minors. Many like his fundamentals better than both Yuniesky Betancourt and Asdrubal Cabrera. Offensively, Navarro may end up with enough bat to get a peak at the bigs. He’s starting to mature physically, which will aid his offensive efforts. The 21-year-old will remain Matt Tuiasosopo’s double-play partner as he joins the 66ers of Inland Empire to start the 2006 season.


24. Thomas Oldham, LHP – Oldham had a rough April last spring, skewing his overall numbers to look somewhat mediocre. But his 3.67 ERA was good for 7th int he league by year’s end and he rebounded from the rough start to the season to win 13 games and post a 115-45 K/BB ratio. Oldham will return to San Antonio where his average fastball must be backed by a full arsenal of secondary pitches to ensure success for the 23-year-old. Oldham uses a cutter and a change and is developing a slider to use versus lefties. His curve ball is inconsistent but effective when thrown with command.


25. Hunter Brown, 3B – The Rice product is a jack-of-all trades, capable of playing first, second and his natural third base, while offering any club an emergency catcher. Brown posted a solid .814 OPS in his first taste of Triple-A baseball, despite coming off the bench for much of the year. Once he settled in, Brown was the team’s most consistent and productive bat. With a starting job, the 26-year-old is capable of hitting .290/.370 with 20 homer power. He bangs a lot of doubles into the gaps and led the team in that area in ’05, smacking 30 two-baggers in just 337 ABs. Brown could be a valuable member of the Mariners bench in the near future and offers plus work ethic, versatility and leadership skills.


26. Thomas Hubbard, 1B – Hubbard fought off the weather conditions early in the year to hit .297/.387/.496 with 17 homers and 25 doubles for Wisconsin. A capable defensive first baseman, Hubbard, 23, can also play some outfield, where his bat may ultimately play better. The former Tar Heels star could have a big year in the Cal League, where a certain fellow first baseman set team records for RBI in 2005.


27. Paul Fagan, LHP – Fagan, 20, had a solid shwing in Everett last season, holding batters to a .394 slugging percentage and inducing a solid G/F ratio of 1.91. Fagan offers a fastball in the 87-90 range and a curve ball that has the makings of a plus pitch. The M’s 4th rounder from the 2003 draft will likely report to Wisconsin to begin his ’06 campaign. Fagan’s ceiling is as a No. 3 or 4 starter. He has room for his fastball to grow behind his 6-foot-5 frame and could land in the bullpen.


28. Bryan LaHair, 1B – LaHair led the minors in RBI before leaving the non-playoff bound 66ers for Team USA in late August and September. The 23-year-old was the M’s 39th rounder in the 2002 draft and has put himself in a position to turn into a legit prospect with another big year in 2006. LaHair stands 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds and is solid around the bag at first and has a natural power swing with some upper cut. Leveling out his K/BB ratio would help both his batting average and power game. He could top out in the 25-homer range, but will need to clean up his approach and develop better plate coverage to stave off becoming an easy out in the upper minors. He’ll report to Double-A San Antonio in April.


29. Michael Saunders, RF – Saunders is a bit of a cult favorite around the city of Seattle after putting up solid numbers in Everett as an 18-year-old draft-and-follow signee. Saunders played right field and showed a good throwing arm with decent speed, though his instincts reflect his inexperience in the outfield after playing third base for much of amateur career. Saunders hit .270 with seven homers in 56 games with the AquaSox last summer but struck out an alarming 74 times in 196 ABs. He did draw 27 walks and post an OPS of .835 in a league where he was among the 10 youngest regulars. His long swing and lack of plate coverage need major improvements. Saunders will seek fame and fortune with Wisconsin in 2006.


30. Travis Blackley, LHP – Blackley’s ranking here at 30 was a tough one to come to. Labrum surgery can be death to a pitcher’s career and even though the 23-year-old was never a flamethrower, his velocity was very important to his offspeed pitches. He was ranked in the mid-40s until January when the horse’s mouth and then the entire farm crew made a point of how well he was throwing and how soon he may come back. When healthy, Blackley features a high-80s fastball, an above average change and two breaking balls; a curve he uses against righties and a slider he uses versus left-handed bats. His desire and work ethic may dig him out of a hole that nobody thought he”d come back from. He has a long road back still, but may see Triple-A Tacoma by mid-season. From there, his ceiling probably reverts right back to being a middle-rotation type starting pitcher.


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Spring Training Update: 3.07

Posted by JasonAChurchill on March 7, 2006

Some updated info from Peoria…

Injury ReportClint Nageotte has strained his left hamstring and will not pitch Wednesday… Fernando Vina took some infield today to test out his hip flexor… Cesar Jimenez’s bullpen session went fine and he should return to live action by Thursday… Both Gil Meche (oblique) and Bobby Livingston (stiff neck) played catch today. Livingston may make a start as early as Thursday or Friday… Chris Snelling will take batting practice on Wednesday to test his surgically repaired knee.

Probables – Sean Green takes Nageotte’s spot in Wednesday’s split-squad game versus Team Japan. Left-hander Luis Gonzalez will start ahead of right-handers Green, Emiliano Fruto and Dave Burba.
In the other game on Wednesday, LHP Jamie Moyer will start followed by RHP J.J. Putz, RHP Jeff Harris and LHP Travis Blackley against the San Francisco Giants.

On Thursday at Tucson Electric Park against the Chicago White Sox, RHP Jesse Foppert gets his second start and will be followed by RHP’s Scott Atchison, Yorman Bazardo and Renee Cortez.

Seattle’s .368 team natting average remains the top mark in either spring league and their 12.86 ERA (50 earned runs in 35 innings) is still the worst in the bigs during spring play.

Note of the Day: The Seattle Mariners have 60 players in camp and the total number on the spring roster is 63 after three players departed for their World Baseball Cup teams (Ichiro, Joel Pineiro and Adrian Beltre). But only 26 of the 63 were in camp with Seattle a year ago and only 22 made a big-league appearance in 2005.

Another Note: M’s analyst Ron Fairly collected his third career Hole-in-One earlier this winter on the third hole at Desert Horizon. It’s the second straight year he’s aced the 185-yard, third hole at the same course. Bith times Fairly used a five-iron.

Minor Stuff: Minor league pitchers and catchers begin workouts today with the first full-squad workouts starting on Saturday morning.

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Seattle Mariners Top 20 Prospects

Posted by JasonAChurchill on March 7, 2006

Top 10 completed. 11-20 coming tomorrow night.


1. Jeff Clement, C – A left-handed hitting backstop with 25-30 homer power, enough tools to stick at catcher and unmatched work ethic, leadership and desire? I’ll take him No. 1 in any year that doesn’t include Felix Hernandez. Clement is a future all-star.


2. Adam Jones, CF -Jones’ stock didn’t fall, nor rise, with the switch to center field from his natural shortstop. He was graded as an offensive player who would at least become an average defender at either position. Another big year and Jones will be ineligible. He has all-star potential, and should at least develop into a regular.


3. Chris Snelling, OF – If it weren’t for Snelling’s injury history he’d be No. 1 – His plate skills are top drawer and he gets better every year and there’s more power in his bat, too – but if it weren’t for his pure desire and passion for the game, he’d be nowhere on this list.


4. Matt Tuiasosopo, 3B/OF – Tui will play SS in 2005, at least to start the year, but his future is probably in the outfield where his arm strength can be put to better use. He has more raw power than Jones and has the athleticism to accel in either corner outfield spot.


5. Clint Nageotte, RHP – Nageotte’s value is mostly as a near-ready arm that can start or relieve, and may be an economic answer in more ways than one – cheap, but also an innings eater who gets ground balls. Nageotte needs his slider to return to form to be an effective starter.


6. Rob Johnson, C – Most are surprised by this ranking, but Johnson is well on his way to being an average offensive catcher with above average defensive skills. How many of those are there, really? I can think of a half dozen in the AL and that’s about it.


7. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS – If Cabrera had a bit more pop or a better track record of on-base skills, he’d rank a bit higher than seven. He has the plate skills to put up better OBP numbers and should reach the gaps with his short, line-drive stroke, but he’e been inconsistent in both areas. Among the best gloves in baseball.


8. Shin-soo Choo, OF – As he continues to sharpen his defensive skills, Choo must make the proper adjustments that allow him to hit for some more power than he did in 2005. The M’s thought of him as a run producer pre-2005. That may have changed, as Choo spent the vast majority of the second half of last season leading off for Tacoma, where he hit .311/.418 and tightened his strike zone judgment.


9. Bobby Livingston, LHP – The M’s have been trying to get more velocity out of Livingston for two years and he’s still sitting 83-87 with his fastball. With even an average heater, the 23-year-old would scare some hitters. He already has a plus change and and curve ball that can be devastating at times, though remains inconsistent.


10. Yorman Bazardo, RHP – Bazardo showed plus stuff two years ago and occasionally in ’05 with more consistency would land in the top five here. Needs to learn to finish off hitters to remain a starter. Projects as a No. 3 or 4 starter or a setup man.


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Finishing Touches on Prospect Reports; Thoughts on Spring Training

Posted by JasonAChurchill on March 6, 2006

Ian Levin and I will be putting the finishing touches on InsideThePark.com’s 2006 Prospect Report with a quick Top 100 MLB Prospects countdown and then a look at the organizations in ranking order, 1-30.

We hope to get this done by the end of the week, so you could see the first set of 30 (30, 30, 30, 10) at some point before the weekend.

We all know wins and losses mean nothing during the Cactus League schedule, right?

I’m changing my mind.

Not that I’m freaking out over the M’s losing the first few games of ST, albeit very badly, but this club has to change the way they go about doing their business on the field.

They need to pick up their share of quality wins this spring, preferably later in the schedule when the games feature squads made up mostly of the regulars.

It’s obviously more important that they stay healthy and get their work in, but that will either happen or not, whether they win or lose.

They need to win some games and put together a three or four game win-streak, breeding confidence and some added comradery. Countless losses, and lopsided at that, are never good for the psychie of the club, regardless of when they occur.

Expect the front office to be very impatient early this season when it comes to making trades, call-ups and even with the trigger finger on Hargrove’s job. A slow start to the regular season may just mean Grover’s job. And as I have said before, don’t expect Ron Hassey, the current bench coach, to take over, even on an interim basis.

For two reasons, Hassey won’t get the gig.

1) Hassey is very loyal to Hargrove and though Hargrove would probably advise him to take it for the opportunity and the experience, Hassey will refuse it and look elsewhere – or keep his bench coach job til the end of the year.

2) The Mariners, and particularly Benny Looper, Lee Pelekoudas and to an extent Bill Bavasi, favor other in-house candidates such as Dan Rohn.

Who Bats Third?

Ideally, Adrian Beltre will go out and hit .300 with 35 homers and 120 RBI and become the pain in the neck to pitchers all over the AL that he was in LA in 2004. But that’s more a dream than anything and if Beltre goes for 280 and 25 homers, most would be happy. Raul Ibanez is probably going to get the call here, but I propose that Sexson and Ibanez switch spots.

Spring Probables

After Matt Thornton’s emergency start today for Bobby Livingston, Felix Hernandez gets the call tomorrow with RHP’s Rafael Soriano, Julio Mateo and Marcos Carvajal scheduled to get work also.

Also today: LHP George Sherrill, RHP Kevin Appierand LHP Jake Woods will see action on the mound.

On Wednesday, Jamie Moyer will start versus San Francisco with RHP Jeff Harris, RHP J.J. Putz and southpaw Travis Blackley slated to get work as well.

The M’s are split squad Wednesday with the second team taking on Team Japan. Right-hander Clint Nageotte will start that game with LHP Luis Gonzalez,RHP Dave Burba and RHP Emiliano Fruto set to get some work.

Heading into Monday’s action, the M’s led the cactus league with a .356 average (42-118). Eleven hitters are batting over .300… … but the team pitching staff is last in the league at 14.88. That’s 43 earned runs in 26 innings. The M’s have walked 17 and struck out just 13.

Injury Report2B Fernando Vina remains sidelined with a strained hip flexor. The clb is hoping he can get into a few games late this week… Even though Livingston is listed as today’s starter (Matt THornton was expected to take his place), he’s also expected to miss a day or two with stiff neck. Knowing Bobby, he probably sprained it looking at the hot Phoenix chicks as they drove by in their flashy cars… OF Wladimir Balentien is participating in workouts but his strained right hamstring will keep him out of games for the time being… Chris Snelling’s recovery is still ahead of schedule, but he will not be allowed to run much and is being limited to half sessions of BP and very little defensive drill action… LHP Cesar Jimenez has a mild hamstring strain, but came into today expecting to throw a bullpen session.

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