1. Jeff Clement, C
2. Chris Tillman, RHP
3. Carlos Triunfel, SS
4. Wladimir Balentien, OF
5. Juan Ramirez, RHP
6. Phillipe Aumont, RHP
7. Michael Saunders, OF
8. Tony Butler, LHP
9. Robert Rohrbaugh, LHP
10. Greg Halman, OF
11. Danny Carroll, OF
Just Missing: Matt Mangini, 3B; Edward Paredes, LHP; Matt Tuiasosopo, 3B
1. Jeff Clement, c
Drafted: 1st round, 2005, University of Southern California
2007 Stats: .275/.370/.497 at Triple-A (125 G); .375/.474/.813 at MLB (9 G)
Year In Review: The power-hitting catcher stayed healthy throughout the year and began to blossom at Triple-A in just his second full season.
The Good: Clement is a rare talent–the catcher who can hit in the middle of the order. He’s tremendously strong and has plus power to all fields, but he’s hardly a one-dimensional slugger, as he has a patient approach as well as very good hitting skills, and should hit for a high average with good on-base skills as well. Despite his high profile and big bonus, he gets high marks for the makeup and work ethic.
The Bad: While Clement has made significant strides defensively, he’s still no more than adequate. That’s good enough news, as combined with his bat, adequate defense makes him an elite catcher. He still needs to work on blocking pitches in the dirt and improving his pop time.
Fun Fact: While at Marshalltown High School in Iowa, Clement set a new national record for career high school home runs, with 75.
Perfect World Projection: A catcher with 30 bombs? That’s an All-Star.
Timetable: Clement is ready for the big leagues, but Kenji Johjima blocks him. One possible scenario has the two splitting the catcher and designated hitter roles in 2008.
2. Chris Tillman, RHP
Drafted: 2nd round, 2006, Fountain Valley HS (CA)
2007 Stats: 3.55 ERA at Low-A (33-31-13-34); 5.26 ERA at High-A (102.2-107-48-105)
Year In Review: Ignore the numbers–scouts walked away highly impressed with Tillman in his full-season debut.
The Good: Tillman is a highly projectable power pitcher. He has a loose, long frame and good mechanics, with a fastball that sits at 92-94 mph and touches 96, which should become a more regular occurrence as his body fills out. His overhand curveball is a true plus offering that he breaks hard through the zone. Scouts love his aggressiveness, and team officials praised his ability to survive as a teenager in one of the worst pitching environments around.
The Bad: Tillman simply needs a little polish. While he’s hardly wild, he needs to improve his command and control. Like many young pitchers, his changeup needs some improvement, but he does show some feel for the pitch, and it’s already gotten far better since he was drafted.
Fun Fact: In his last seven starts, Tillman had a 2.50 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings.
Perfect World Projection: Tillman’s ceiling is considerably high; if everything works out, he’s a number two starter.
Timetable: The Mariners are well known for pushing their prospects quickly, and Tillman will likely hit Double-A at some point in 2008.
3. Carlos Triunfel, SS
Acquired: NDFA, 2006, Dominican Republic
2007 Stats: .273/.231/.273 at Rookie-level (3 G); .309/.342/.388 at Low-A (43 G); .288/.333/.356 at High-A (50 G)
Year In Review: The teen-age wunderkind shocked the prospect world by hitting for average at High-A as a 17-year-old.
The Good: For a player this young to do so well speaks of remarkable natural hitting ability. Triunfel has plenty of bat speed and slices line drives all over the field, already showing the ability to make contact on multiple pitch types and locations. He has clean actions defensively and an absolute cannon for an arm.
The Bad: Triunfel still has a long way to go offensively, as his secondary skills lag far behind–in 208 at-bats in High Desert, he drew 12 walks, and had just 12 extra-base hits, none of them home runs. He’s already a little thick in the lower half, and likely will have to slide over to third or second base in the next few years.
Fun Fact: While in the Midwest League, Triunfel hit just .220 in day games, but .353 at night. Luckily, all of his California League contests were under the lights.
Perfect World Projection: An All-Star infielder, but probably not a shortstop.
Timetable: As excited as the Mariners are about Triunfel, and as talented as he is, putting an 18-year-old in Double-A might be a bit too risky, even for Seattle. He’ll likely begin the year back in the Cal League, where he can focus on the weak points in his game.
Year In Review: The slugging outfielder recovered from poor showing at Double-A to have best all-around season of career at Triple-A.
The Good: Balentien has more power than anyone in the organization, smashing both light-tower shots and laser-guided missiles out of the park with regularity. He has a patient approach and waits for his pitch to hit, while also being comfortable in taking a walk if it doesn’t come. He’s a solid athlete with a very good arm in right field.
The Bad: Balentien still plays with an out-of-control style that hurts him overall. While his strikeout rate has reduced considerably over each of the last two years, he’s yet to learn how to make adjustments with his swing to shorten it with two strikes. He’s been hit with some bad makeup reviews in the past, but seems to have learned from his past, showing a consistent effort in 2007.
Fun Fact: During the ninth inning or later at Triple-A Tacoma, Balentien went 19-for-52 (.365) with four doubles, five home runs, and 12 RBI.
Perfect World Projection: A classic slugging right fielder with lots of home runs, but too many strikeouts to get his average out of the .280s.
Timetable: While the Mariners made some moves to clear out a role for their top young talent, Adam Jones, there is no clear opening for Balentien in Seattle at this time. He’s mentioned in pretty much every trade rumor involving the Mariners these days, and if he stays put, he’ll likely have to begin 2008 back in Tacoma.
Year In Review: Last year’s Venezuela Summer League Pitcher of the Year impressed people in his stateside debut, dominating at times as a teenager in a league loaded with college draftees.
The Good: Ramirez is a pure power pitcher with incredible upside. He already effortlessly sits at 92-95 mph with his fastball and touches 97, while his hard curveball is a second plus offering with late, heavy break. He’s shown some feel for a changeup, and he maintains his stuff deep into games.
The Bad: Like Tillman, Ramirez is far from a finished product. While his mechanics are clean, they could use some smoothing out, particularly regarding a more consistent release point to address his control issues. His changeup lags behind his other offerings and will be a focus for him moving forward. In many ways he just need more innings to get better.
Fun Fact: Ramirez didn’t allow a second inning earned run in any of his 15 starts.
Perfect World Projection: An above-average starting pitcher.
Timetable: Ramirez will begin 2008 as a 19-year-old in Low-A, and if he pitches well, the Mariners won’t hesitate in moving him up.
Year In Review: Aumont is the top Canadian pitcher since Jeff Francis, and while he was difficult to get multiple looks at, he was still impressive enough to go eleventh overall in the first round, though bonus negotiations took longer than expected and pushed his debut back to 2008.
The Good: In a system filled with young power arms, Aumount just adds to the list. He’s a big, imposing presence on the mound and gets his fastball into the mid-90s when everything is going right, while also showing off a tight-breaking slider. He gets high grades for his makeup–he overcame a difficult childhood, and appreciates the opportunity that’s been given too him.
The Bad: Despite pitching for Baseball Canada’s junior national squad and being showcased in Florida during the spring, Aumont has far less experience than most high school draftees. His mechanics and command can get a little messy at times; when they go bad, he drops his arm slot, which flattens out his slider. His English is poor but improving.
Fun Fact: Aumont didn’t begin pitching until his freshman year of high school.
Perfect World Projection: It’s hard to say at this point, other than “power pitcher.”
Timetable: Aumont might be a little too raw for even Seattle’s aggressive development program. He’d be best served by a half year in extended spring training followed by a Rookie League debut, but don’t be shocked if he ends up at Low-A.
7. Michael Saunders, OF
Drafted: 11th round, 2004, Lambrick Park HS (Canada)
2007 Stats: .299/.392/.473 at High-A (108 G); .288/.373/.442 at Double-A (15 G)
Year In Review: Another Canadian, Saunders made great strides in converting his impressive tools into skills following a disappointing 2006.
The Good: Saunders has as much size and athleticism as anyone in the system. He has a patient approach at the plate, a quick, quiet swing, and shows plus power when he gets his arms extended, with the potential to grow into 25+ home runs annually. He also has above-average running speed and a plus arm.
The Bad: Saunders didn’t really focus on baseball until he turned pro, so he’s still raw. While he’s played center field for most of his career, his jumps and routes are poor, and he profiles better in right. He’s a poor baserunner, and needs to improve his base stealing ability.
Fun Fact: Saunders was maybe a little too patient to begin the season, as in his first eight games, he went 3-for-21 (.190) with 14 walks (.500 OBP).
Perfect World Projection: A 20/20 outfielder with a good on-base percentage.
Timetable: Saunders will spend 2008 at Double-A, hoping to force the Mariners into more difficult outfield decisions the following year.
Year In Review: Coming off a stunning pro debut, Butler took a long time to get going, as bad weather limited him to just 14 innings in the season’s first month and he followed that by missing six weeks with a tired arm. He finished the year with five consecutive quality starts, including a nine-inning four-hitter on August 26.
The Good: Despite his struggles, Butler’s combination of size, velocity, and left-handedness is a rare thing. He was consistently reaching 93-94 mph by the end of the year, and his curve seems to fall out of the sky due to his height and its hard break. He’s a good athlete for his size, and fields his position well.
The Bad: Some felt that having Butler pitch in his home state of Wisconsin turned out being more of a distraction that a comfort. His herky-jerky mechanics give scouts pause, with some wondering if his tired-arm period was just a sign of things to come. Like many young, tall pitchers, he needs to find a more consistent release point, as he has a lot of trouble throwing his curveball for strikes.
Fun Fact: Butler ended his prep career as Oak Creek High’s all-time leading scorer in basketball, playing at the varsity level in all four years.
Perfect World Projection: Butler’s ceiling is as an above-average, star-level rotation stalwart.
Timetable: Things won’t get any easier for Butler as he moves to the California League for 2008. Consistency and health will be as important as his numbers.
Year In Review: Finesse lefty has yet to stop fooling opposing batters, proving himself at both Double- and Triple-A.
The Good: Scouts have tremendous difficulty in explaining Rohrbaugh’s success. His fastball sits in the upper 80s, his hard curve is good, but no more than plus at best, and his changeup is solid. His control is very good, he mixes his pitches effectively, and he brings a bulldog attitude to the mound. As one scout put it, “he just gets it done.”
The Bad: Because of his raw stuff, it’s hard to project Rohrbaugh as anything more than a role player. He tends to work in the upper half of the strike zone, and can be prone to giving up the long ball at times.
Fun Fact: In his final two years at Littlestown High in Pennsylvania, Rohrbaugh had 205 strikeouts against just 26 walks in 105 1/3 innings.
Perfect World Projection: A classic back-of-the-rotation starter.
Timetable: Rohrbaugh has no immediate opening in the majors, so he’ll return to Triple-A to begin the season, but is first on the list of potential call-ups should the need arise.
Year In Review: A high-ceiling international signee, he had awful first half in Midwest League, but rebounded with big showing at Short-season Everett, including 16 home runs in 238 at-bats.
The Good: To call Halman toolsy is quite the understatement. He’s a big, intimidating presence at the plate who generates plus power with both his bat speed and his natural strength. He’s a well above-average runner, especially once he gets going, and a good outfielder with a strong arm.
The Bad: Halman will never develop if he can’t harness his swing and refine his approach, as he whiffed 162 times last year in 114 games, and even during his outstanding season with Everett struck out 85 times in 238 at-bats. He needs to harness his emotions as well, as his frustration builds following bad at-bats, leading to even worse ones later in the game. His instincts for the game are poor, both in his baserunning and outfield play.
Fun Fact: When batting third in Wisconsin’s lineup, Halman went 1-for-28 with 17 strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: Halman’s ceiling compares with anyone’s in the system, but there are few players in the minors overall with as big a difference between where they are now and where they could be.
Timetable: Halman will begin 2008 by getting another crack at the Midwest League. If he shows the same production he showed during the second half of 2007, he’ll be quickly dispatched to High-A.
11. Danny Carroll, OF
Drafted: 3rd round, 2007, Valley View HS (CA)
2007 Stats: .323/.415/.428 at Rookie-Level (53 G); .176/.176/.176 at Short-season (4 G)
Year In Review: The June draftee had an outstanding debut in Arizona, finishing among the Arizona League’s top five in batting, hits, stolen bases, and on-base percentage.
The Good: Scouts who didn’t see Carroll as an amateur quickly fell in love with him as a pro. He plays with an infectious energy and brings some intriguing abilities to the table, primarily a quick, quiet swing that laces line drives all over the field. He’s an above-average runner with a good arm, and can play all three outfield positions with aplomb.
The Bad: Much of Carroll’s future depends on his ability to stay in center field, and scouts are mixed on that. He has well-below-average power and will need to refine his approach to profile as some at the top of a lineup; otherwise he’s a fourth outfielder.
Fun Fact: Other Valley View alumni include Phillies right-hander Ryan Madson, as well as NFL players Kyle Turley and Derrick Ward.
Perfect World Projection: A top-of-the-order offensive catalyst.
Timetable: As impressive as Carroll was, it’s difficult to take too much away from the complex leagues. Nonetheless, the Mariners are looking forward to his full-season debut in 2008.
The Sleeper: While he hit just .240/.308/.385 in his full-season debut, 19-year-old Italian third baseman Alex Liddi still showed plenty of promise, projecting to hit for plus power while showcasing impressive defensive skills. He could take a while, but he could also be worth the wait.
The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies Under 25 (As Of Opening Day 2008)
1. Felix Hernandez, RHP
2. Adam Jones, OF
3. Brandon Morrow, RHP
4. Jeff Clement, C
5. Chris Tillman, RHP
6. Carlos Triunfel, SS
7. Wladimir Balentien, OF
8. Juan Ramirez, RHP
9. Phillipe Aumont, RHP
10. Michael Saunders, OF
Also under 25 but not quite making the list were Ryan Feierabend (very similar to Rohrbaugh), Eric O’Flaherty (basic lefty reliever), and infielder Jose Lopez, who once showed significant promise but now has a sub-.300 on-base percentage in more than 400 big league games. There are people out there who are starting to give up on Felix Hernandez, and I just don’t get that. His age is still a huge factor in his future, as he’s still significantly younger than Clay Buchholz, Joba Chamberlain, or Tim Lincecum. The Mariners cleared out right field for Adam Jones, and with good reason, as he’s nearly done the impossible by making significant improvements in his game for three straight years. If he makes it a fourth, watch out. After an up-and-down season in the big league bullpen the year after he was drafted, Morrow is the talk of the Venezuelan Winter League, showing the same dominating stuff in a starting role along with much better command.
While the Mariners system is not what anyone would refer to as loaded, it’s one of the more impressive systems around when it comes to high-ceiling talent. It just takes one or two of those prospects to blossom for the system to look much better than it does now.
Next up: the Tampa Bay Rays.