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February 5, 2007

Future Shock

Seattle Mariners Top Ten Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Excellent Prospects
None
Very Good Prospects
1. Adam Jones, cf
2. Jeff Clement, c
3. Brandon Morrow, rhp
Good Prospects
4. Tony Butler, lhp
5. Chris Tillman, rhp
6. Ryan Feierabend, lhp
7. Carlos Truinfel, ss
Average Prospects
8. Justin Thomas, lhp
9. Wladimir Balentien, rf/cf
10. Juan Carlos Ramirez, rhp

1. Adam Jones, cf
DOB: 8/1/85
Height/Weight: 6-2/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2003, California HS
What he did in 2006: .287/.345/.484 at AAA (416 PA), .216/.237/.311 at MLB (76 PA)
The Good: Ultra-toolsy player who has made significant strides every year in translating his athleticism into usable baseball skills. Excellent bat speed and rapidly developing power. A plus runner who covers plenty of ground in the outfield and has one of the best arms in the minor leagues - having touched 95 mph off the mound in high school.
The Bad: Jones is still rough around the edges. He has problems hitting lefthanders (.177/.270/.342 against LHP at AAA Tacoma), and big league pitchers were able to make him look foolish by feeding him a steady diet of breaking balls. He needs to become a more patient hitter and learn how to better utilize his speed on the base paths. A converted shortstop, Jones is an average centerfielder now and should get better, but needs to work specifically on going back on balls.
The Irrelevant: The most famous baseball alumni from Jones' alma mater, Morse High in San Diego, is 19-year big leaguer Mark McLemore, who has mentored Jones throughout his young career.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An exciting power/speed combination.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average - Like pretty much every Mariners prospect, Jones has been rushed through the system, but he's slated for a return engagement at Triple-A to hone the finer points of his game.

2. Jeff Clement, c
DOB: 8/21/83
Height/Weight: 6-1/210
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2005, University of Southern California
What he did in 2006: .288/.386/.535 at AA (70 PA), .257/.321/.347 at AAA (272 PA)
The Good: Third overall pick in 2005 draft had a disappointing full-season debut. He got off to a fine start at Double-A, but was inexplicably promoted to Triple-A following minor knee and elbow surgery, and struggled while splitting time between catcher and designated hitter duties and dealing with a strained abdominal muscle. Plus-plus raw power with the ability to drive balls all over the field. Works the count well and waits for his pitch. Has made great strides in his defense since his early days at USC, and projects as a solid-to-average catcher.
The Bad: Defensively, Clement still struggles with controlling the running game. His swing can get long at times and he needs to focus on letting his natural power work for him, as opposed to trying to pull everything. He needs to get his confidence back, which the club feels can happen with consistent playing time.
The Irrelevant: Clement finished his high school career at Marshalltown (Iowa) with a national record 75 home runs, and is second on the Trojans career home run list, trailing only Mark McGwire.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A upper-echelon backstop capable of 25-30 home runs annually.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. The Mariners are willing to give Clement a mulligan on 2006 and still believe he'll become an All-Star level power bat from behind the plate. He'll join Jones at Triple-A to begin the year.

3. Brandon Morrow, rhp
DOB: 7/26/84
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, University of California
What he did in 2006: 2.77 ERA at Rookie-level (13-10-9-13), 0.00 ERA at High A (3-0-0-4)
The Good: Always a scout's favorite for his raw arm strength, things finally came together in 2006 as Morrow pitched well in the Friday starter role for Cal and was drafted fifth overall. A true power arm, Morrow lives in the 93-96 mph range and can touch 98-99 several times an outing. He throws a splitter and a slider, as well as a nicely developing curve that has a chance to become his primary breaking pitch.
The Bad: Control was a huge issue for Morrow in his first two seasons at Cal, and it still rears its ugly head once in a while. Some scouts see his repertoire as one better suited for closing than starting.
The Irrelevant: Batters facing Morrow in the first inning during his brief pro debut went 0-for-16.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A No. 2 starter or very good closer.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average - Some minor arm soreness limited Morrow to just 16 innings in his pro debut, but that doesn't mean Seattle won't put him on the fast track. He'll likely begin the year in the Double-A rotation at West Tenn.

4. Tony Butler, lhp
DOB: 11/18/87
Height/Weight: 6-7/205
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 4th round, 2006, Wisconsin HS
What he did in 2006: 2.57 ERA at Rookie-level (14-5-9-25), 2.76 ERA at Short-season (42.1-23-25-52)
The Good: Late bloomer gained velocity throughout his senior season and then dominated in his pro debut. Immense frame delivers low 90s fastballs on a strong downward plane, and he gets it up to 94-95 consistently. Slow curveball features big, late break, and is already a second plus offering. Seattle loves his makeup and aggressive style.
The Bad: Like many teenage pitchers with Butler's size, control is an issue, primarily because of inconsistent mechanics and release points. He has a tendency to live in the upper-half of the strike zone.
The Irrelevant: In his first three professional appearances, Butler fired a combined six no-hit innings while striking out 10.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A No. 2 or 3 starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High - Many scouts only saw Butler early in the year and wrote him off, leaving the Mariners with the belief that they got an extra first-round talent in the draft. He'll begin the year close to home, pitching in the rotation at Low A Wisconsin.

5. Chris Tillman, rhp
DOB: 4/15/88
Height/Weight: 6-5/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2006, California HS
What he did in 2006: 0.82 ERA at Rookie-level (11-9-5-16), 7.78 ERA at Short-season (19.2-25-15-29)
The Good: Tall, power righthander already sits in the low 90s and touches 96, while featuring nice sinking action. Slider breaks hard out of the zone and can make hitters looks silly. Frame and fluid mechanics allow for projection.
The Bad: Tillman can overthrow at times, putting his fastball into the dirt or getting around too much on the slider to leave it sweeping across the plate. His effort came into question at times as an amateur.
The Irrelevant: Left-handed batters facing Tillman went 15-for-43 (.387) yet struck out 20 times.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A No. 3 starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High - Because he pitched against top competition in the ultra-competitive world of California high schools, Tillman is a bit more proven than many young arms, and like Butler, Seattle feels he was another first-round talent. He'll join Butler in the Midwest League.

6. Ryan Feierabend, lhp
DOB: 8/22/85
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 3rd round, 2003, Ohio HS
What he did in 2006: 4.28 ERA at AA (153.2-156-55-127), 3.71 ERA at MLB (17-15-7-11)
The Good: Southpaw with consistently improving stuff to complement ever-present plus pitchability. Lively fastball sits at 88-90 mph with excellent location, and hitters are kept off balance with the best changeup in the system. He's very mature, and pitches fearlessly.
The Bad: Feierabend doesn't have a usable breaking ball at this point, and its development will be the key to his career, as he has the body, delivery, and stamina of a starter, and has only marginal value as a reliever who doesn't miss a lot of bats.
The Irrelevant: Feierabend's hometown of Grafton, Ohio has produced one other big leaguer. Shortstop Ed McKean is one of the all-time great Cleveland Spiders, though he spent the final year of his career, 1899, with the St. Louis Perfectos, avoiding having any part of the worst team in big league history.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An effective innings eater in the rotation.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - Feierabend will remain young for his level, beginning 2007 as a 21-year-old in the Triple-A rotation.

7. Carlos Truinfel, ss
DOB: 2/27/90
Height/Weight: 6-2/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: 2006, Dominican Republic
What he did in 2006: Signed with Seattle for a $1.3 million bonus
The Good: One of the top international talents available this year, a true five-tool shortstop who one scout describes as "Rafael Furcal with size." Not a burner like Furcal but still a plus runner who adds above-average power with the bat. Outstanding first-step quickness defensively, and plus-plus arm strength.
The Bad: We don't know what we don't know. He's yet to play a pro game.
The Irrelevant: Dealing with Latin American talent doesn't allow teams to avoid working with powerful agents. Both Truinfel and Giants third baseman Angel Villalona, two of the top talents available this summer, were represented by none other than Scott Boras.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: He was born in 1990, folks, it's hard to project what he'll be at this point - but the pure tools definitely have that 'wow' factor.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Very High - After seeing the success of players like Fernando Martinez of the Mets and Jose Tabata of the Yankees, more teams are convinced that the premium international talents can handle a full-season assignment at 17 if they have a special combination of talent and makeup. Seattle believes Truinfel has just that, and he'll begin the year at Wisconsin.

8. Justin Thomas, lhp
DOB: 1/18/84
Height/Weight: 6-3/220
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 4th round, 2005, Youngstown State
What he did in 2006: 3.10 ERA at Low A (61-69-17-51), 4.10 ERA at High A (105.1-108-45-111)
The Good: Aggressive southpaw attacks the strike zone with a sinking fastball anywhere from 88-93 mph, usually sitting at 90-91. Three-quarters delivery and whippy arm action creates extra deception. Low 80s slider is at least average and changeup is a plus pitch. Calm demeanor on the mound, and is unfazed when things go wrong. Excellent stamina.
The Bad: Thomas needs to improve his slider and work inside more to become more effective against right-handed batters. There's no more projection in his fastball.
The Irrelevant: In a pair of playoff starts for High Class-A Inland Empire, Thomas struck out 17 over 13 shutout innings.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A solid contributor to a big league rotation.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average - Thomas is 23 and has nothing left to prove at A ball. He'll begin the year in the Double-A rotation and should compete for a big league job in 2008.

9. Wladimir Balentien, rf/cf
DOB: 7/2/84
Height/Weight: 6-2/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: 2000, Curacao
What he did in 2006: .230/.337/.435 at AA (522 PA)
The Good: Plus-plus raw power eclipses anyone in system, including Clement. While batting average slipped in 2006, he made great strides in improving his patience at the plate. A very good athlete who is a good runner once he gets going and features an above-average outfield arm.
The Bad: Balentien will always strike out a lot, as his swing is long and he fails to shorten his stroke when behind in the count. He needs to improve his jumps in the outfield. There are some makeup concerns, as at times he coasts on his natural talent.
The Irrelevant: When not batting cleanup, Balentien hit .266 with 11 home runs in 128 at-bats.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A slugging corner outfielder who ideally fits in the No. 5 slot of a big league lineup.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average - Despite his struggles to hit for average, the Mariners feel Balentien will come out of it as a better player once he learns how to take advantage of his newfound ability to work the count. He'll begin the year at Triple-A, and could get a September look.

10. Juan Carlos Ramirez, rhp
DOB: 8/16/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: 2005, Nicaragua
What he did in 2006: 1.66 ERA at Venezuelan Summer League (65-43-35-56)
The Good: Venezuela Summer League Pitcher of the Year has tremendous size and stuff for his age. Described by one insider as a "teenage man-child," Ramirez can already get his fastball into the 95-97 mph range, and there's projection for more. Curveball is already a plus pitch - a power offering with hard, late break.
The Bad: Ramirez's changeup lags behind, though he has shown some aptitude for the pitch. He has problems throwing strikes at times, primarily because he rushes his delivery, which is correctable.
The Irrelevant: In his last six starts for the VSL Mariners, Ramirez had an 0.77 ERA in 35 innings, allowing just 18 hits.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: Something very special - but it's a long ways away.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Very High - Some in the organization feel that Ramirez is the best pitcher to ever come out of their Latin America programs other than Felix Hernandez. They're excited about seeing him come stateside, and he'll spend the first half of the year in extended spring training before pitching in Rookie ball.

The Sleeper

At 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, outfielder Michael Wilson is built more like a linebacker than an outfielder, and because of his football background he's been a bit of a late bloomer, but finished second to Balentien for the organizational lead in home runs last year.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies 25 Years Old Or Younger (As Of Opening Day 2007)

1. Felix Hernandez, rhp
2. Adam Jones, cf
3. Jeff Clement, c
4. Yuniesky Betancourt, ss
5. Brandon Morrow, rhp
6. Jose Lopez, 2b
7. Tony Butler, lhp
8. Chris Tillman, rhp
9. Ryan Feierabend, lhp
10. Carlos Truinfel, ss

Hernandez at No. 1 is easy enough. Defensive statistics are a tough thing, and while our metrics don't like Betancourt for some reason, he might be the best defensive shortstop on the planet right now. Lopez I might like more than others, but I was excited to see PECOTA projecting a .800 OPS second baseman with a good chance for stardom. Jeremy Reed misses the cut.

The Mariners system lacks elite talent and depth. There are few real prospects past this top 10, yet there's some star potential at the top, a bevy of young arms, and some exciting international talent.

Next: The Tampa Bay Devil Rays. With only Texas and Toronto remaining, the Devil Rays represent the last of the good systems.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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