1. Dustin Ackley, OF/2B
2. Michael Saunders, OF
3. Gabriel Noriega , SS
4. Adam Moore, C
5. Alex Liddi, 3B
6. Nick Franklin, SS
7. Johermyn Chavez, OF
8. Guillermo Pimentel, OF
9. Carlos Triunfel, SS
10. Greg Halman, OF
11. Maikel Cleto, RHP
12. Mario Martinez, 3B: Martinez is a corner infielder who shows a potent bat, but he needs to tap into that power and improve his approach.
13. Dan Cortes, RHP: His stuff continues to impress, but Cortes’ command and control issues continue to lead to sub-par results.
14. Ezequiel Carrera, OF: He’s a tiny, speedy outfielder who led the Double-A Southern League in batting and on-base percentage, but he has less power than my cat.
15. Matt Tuiasosopo, 3B: Never bad but rarely great, Tuiasosopo could be a solid bench player, and soon.
Year in Review: Having a .417/.512/.763 line for the season as a Tar Heel cemented Ackley as one of the better college hitters in the last few years, earning him a $6 million bonus as part of a big-league deal that could reach close to $10 million.
The Good: Scouts are universal in seeing Ackley as a player who could compete for both batting and on-base percentage titles. His approach at the plate is already above-average by major-league standards, and his combination of bat speed and control leads to consistent hard contact to all fields, and his 22 home runs as a junior were five more than his freshman and sophomore seasons combined. Unlike most college hitters, he’s a lean, wiry, toolsy athlete with plus-plus speed, and he earns high praise for his makeup and baseball intelligence.
The Bad: There is debate about Ackley’s power translating as a pro, and Ackely did little to alleviate those concerns with just one home run over 73 at-bats in the Arizona Fall League. Arm problems, including a Tommy John surgery, limited him to first base in college, so while he has the athleticism to play center, his arm will always be well below average. The Mariners are hoping to alleviate that by having him learn second base during the offseason, as while he’s never played the position, he certainly has the tools to succeed there.
Ephemera: Ackely used a small portion of his bonus money to buy a matte black Camaro with blacked out windows, earning a joking nickname of “The Punisher” from his Arizona Fall League teammates.
Perfect World Projection: With his skills, Ackley could have a .300+ batting average, .400+ on-base percentage, 20+ stolen bases and, depending on who you talk to, between 12 and 25 home runs annually.
Path to the Big Leagues: For now, he’s expected to begin his career as a second baseman, but the outfield is always a backup plan, so he has multiple routes to the big leagues.
Timetable: Ackley’s bat should allow for a very quick progression through the minors. He could begin the year as high as Double-A, and will likely get his first taste of the big leagues by September.
2. Michael Saunders, OF
Drafted/Signed: 11th round, 2004, Lambrick Park SS (BC)
2009 Stats: .310/.378/.544 at Triple-A (64 G); .221/.258/.279 at MLB (46 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: 3
Year in Review: The big, athletic outfielder was having a breakthrough season at Triple-A, but he struggled in the big leagues before jamming his shoulder.
The Good: Saunders is a big, athletic outfielder with plenty of upside. He’s combines plus raw power with good speed, and his quick, compact swing gives him more contact ability than most with his profile. He has good instincts in the outfield, and he’s a plus in a corner while even holding his own in center.
The Bad: Saunders was overmatched in the big leagues, as he pressed and got away from the patient approach that served him so well in the minor leagues. He’s gone from a true plus runner to a tick above average in recent years, and he’ll likely be limited to a corner only by the time he hits his prime. His arm is a bit short for right field.
Ephemera: Players drafted 333rd overall have hit 581 home runs in the big leagues, but 564 have come off the bat of Jim Thome (1989).
Perfect World Projection: He projects as a .280+ corner outfielder with good power and walks.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Milton Bradley deal makes Saunders the odd man out for now.
Timetable: Without the opportunity for consistent at-bats in the majors, Saunders will begin 2010 by biding his time in Triple-A.
Year in Review: This young Venezuelan shortstop was the most talked about position player in the Appalachian League.
The Good: Noriega is your classic young Venezuelan shortstop, but he differentiates himself with a big, athletic frame in the mold of a young Troy Tulowitzki. Defensively, he’s among the minors’ best, with instincts and fundamentals far beyond his years, as well as the athleticism and arm to make the spectacular play. At the plate, he has gap power that could turn into more down the road, and also has good hitting mechanics.
The Bad: Noriega gets a bit pull-conscious at times, which has led to a high strikeout rate. He’s only an average runner, but he doesn’t have the kind of frame that fills out the wrong way and should be able to maintain it. He needs to tighten up his strike zone and work on his approach.
Ephemera: In the 20 games that Noriega hit eighth in the lineup last year, Noriega hit a whopping .377/.403/.623.
Perfect World Projection: Noriega looks to be a Gold Glove shortstop with above-average power for the position.
Path to the Big Leagues: He’s a long way away, but the system is thin on shortstops and Jack Wilson won’t be a factor by the time Noriega is ready.
Timetable: Noriega will makes his highly anticipated full-season debut in 2010 with High-A Clinton.
4. Adam Moore, C
Drafted/Signed: 6th round, 2006, University of Texas
2009 Stats: .263/.371/.411 at Double-A (27 G); .294/.346/.429 at Triple-A (91 G); .217/.250/.391 at MLB (6 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: 8
Year in Review: This backstop continued to improve on both sides of the plate while earning his first big-league call-up.
The Good: Moore projects as an everyday major-league catcher with few weaknesses. He’s an adept hitter with gap power, and at times more power, and he has enough plate discipline to keep pitchers honest. His arm is a plus defensive tool, and he earns high marks for the work he’s put in to improve defensively.
The Bad: Moore still remains a bit below average behind the plate, needing specific work at his lateral movement and receiving skills. He has a big strike zone and often finds himself in pitcher’s counts. Like many catchers, he’s a below-average runner.
Ephemera: Moore’s first big-league home run on September 30 against Oakland’s Jeff Gray tied him for second place all-time on the homer list among UT-Arlington draftees. Houston’s Hunter Pence is the all-time leader with 67, and early-’80s Cubs utility player Dave Owen is the only other to hit a long ball.
Perfect World Projection: He’ll be good, but he won’t be a great everyday big-league catcher.
Path to the Big Leagues: Moore is likely a finished product.
Timetable: Moore will battle Rob Johnson for primary catching duties this spring, but will likely begin the year as the backup.
Year in Review: Liddi, an Italian import, had a breakout season, and scouts were able to see through the inflated offensive environment to see real progress.
The Good: Liddi has always passed the scouting sniff test with ease. He’s a tall, long-limbed athlete with good bat speed, slightly above-average power and plenty of projection for more as his frame fills out. He’s a solid, if unspectacular third baseman with an above-average arm.
The Bad: Liddi is an average runner, and he’ll likely fall below that as his body matures. He has approach issues that vary wildly between letting good pitches go by and flailing at breaking balls in the dirt. Some scouts were worried that playing at High Desert created some bad habits, as he often forced more of an uppercut into his swing.
Ephemera: Reno Bertoia, who played 10 years (1953-1962) as a utility player for three teams, is the only player born in Italy to ever hit a home run in a big-league game, popping out 27.
Perfect World Projection: Liddi projects as an everyday third baseman, and while there are still plenty of holes in his game, there’s still star upside as well.
Path to the Big Leagues: Chone Figgins‘ four-year deal confuses things a bit.
Timetable: Liddi will begin 2010 at Double-A with the pressure of his first taste of the upper levels combining with a need to prove that 2009 was more than a High Desert mirage.
6. Nick Franklin, SS
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2009, Lake Brantley HS (FL)
2009 Stats: .302/.318/.419 at Rookie-level (10 G); .400/.429/.600 at Short-season (6 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: Did not qualify
Year in Review: It was a bit surprising to see Franklin slip into the end of the first round, and even more surprising to see him get an above-slot bonus, but he justified it early with an outstanding, albeit brief, pro debut.
The Good: Franklin was one of the most advanced high school position players in the 2009 draft. He’s a pure shortstop with smooth actions, soft hands, and a slightly above-average arm. At the plate, he has a smooth swing from both sides, makes consistent contact, and is an above-average runner.
The Bad: Franklin is slight and skinny, and is unlikely to ever hit for power. He’s a free swinger who will have to learn how to lay off breaking balls as he moves up the ladder. He’s solid across the board and has the fundamentals to move quickly, but few see star-level impact.
Ephemera: Beyond producing Franklin and both Weeks brothers, Lake Brantley High also produced infielder Felipe Lopez, catcher Jason Vartiek, and BP alum Keith Woolner.
Perfect World Projection: Franklin has the tools to be an above-average everyday shortstop.
Path to the Big Leagues: Next season starts a race for the future job with Franklin and Noriega.
Timetable: Seattle is undecided as how to deal with two young, talented shortstops both ready for the same level. There could be a time-share at Low-A Clinton, with both players learning other positions to increase versatility.
Year in Review: A big right fielder, Chavez made tremendous progress in his second year in the Midwest League before being included in the Brandon Morrow deal.
The Good: Chavez is a prototypical right fielder, as he’s a physically imposing right fielder with plus power and a very good arm. He takes a big swing and is capable of hitting the ball out of any park, to any field. He made significant improvements in his approach last year, laying off of more bad pitches and getting himself into hitter’s counts. He’s a good athlete for his size, and a solid outfielder.
The Bad: Chavez’s power-only swing leads to plenty of strikeouts, and he needs to temper his two-strike approach. There are worries about just how big he’ll be once he fully matures, as he could lose speed down the road.
Ephemera: When batting in the sixth inning of games for Lansing in 2009, Chavez went 24-for-64 (.375) with six home runs.
Perfect World Projection: He stands to be a prototypical power-hitting corner outfielder.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Mariners have a stable big-league outfield, but there is still considerable distance between Chavez and the big leagues.
Timetable: Chavez is the kind of player who could put up some ridiculous numbers in 2010 at High-A High Desert.
Year in Review: Seattle continued to be an aggressive player on the international market, spending $2 million to bring Pimentel to the Mariners.
The Good: Pimentel’s power from the left side is a rare commodity, as he has plus-plus raw power now, with some international scouts putting a future 80 on the tool, and one going as far to say Pimentel reminds him of “a young Juan Gonzalez from the left side.” The power comes from a combination of raw strength and bat speed, and his swing needs little mechanical adjustments.
The Bad: Unlike most seven-figure Dominican outfielders, much of Pimentel’s future lies solely in his bat. He’s an average runner at best which, combined with a below-average arm, has him profiling best as a left fielder. There is some question about his pure ability to hit, as he struggled with anything other than fastballs in limited looks.
Ephemera: Ken Griffey had 652 big league hits and 87 home runs before Pimentel was born.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a clean-up hitting left fielder on a first-division club.
Path to the Big Leagues: All he has right now is a path to los Estados Unidos.
Timetable: Pimentel won’t show up in a box score until the complex leagues begin in Arizona.
9. Carlos Triunfel, SS
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2006
2009 Stats: .250/.250/.313 at Rookie-level (4 G); .231/.286/.269 at Double-A (7 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: 6
Year in Review: Triunfel, a high-ceiling infielder, was limited to just 11 games due to a broken leg, and then looked exceptionally rusty in the Arizona Fall League.
The Good: Scouts still have his praise for Triunfel’s bat, as he has an excellent knack for putting the thick part of the bat onto pitches regardless of type or location. His arm is an absolute rocket, and he showed above-average speed before the injury.
The Bad: Much-hyped throughout his career, Triunfel has yet to perform well for an extended period of time at any level. His swing is generated far more for line drives than power, and his body is already thickening up, which will likely require a move to third base. He tends to lose focus defensively, leading to plenty of sloppy errors.
Ephemera: Of Triunfel’s eight career home runs in 849 at-bats, seven have come in the pinball machine that is High Desert.
Perfect World Projection: He projects to be a high-average, plus defensive second or third baseman.
Path to the Big Leagues: He’s played just 215 games in three years, so health and finding a permanent position for Triunfel are the first priorities.
Timetable: Triunfel will return to Double-A in 2010 and, at 20, he’ll still be one of the youngest players in the league.
10. Greg Halman, CF
Drafted/Signed: Netherlands, 2004
2009 Stats: .182/.308/.364 at Rookie-level (3 G); .210/.278/.420 at Double-A (121 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: 1
Year in Review: The Mariners’ top prospect entering the year, Halman saw his bad approach at the plate completely fall apart, as he struggled to keep his batting average above the Mendoza line at Double-A and struck out 191 times in 468 at-bats.
The Good: On pure tools alone, Halman remains at the elite level. He has plus-plus raw power, so when he actually makes contact, it’s very hard, with 46 percent of his hits going for extra bases, and 26 percent of them leaving the yard. He’s a big, graceful athlete with above-average speed, good outfielder instincts, and a very strong arm.
The Bad: Halman swings at anything and everything, not just missing a lot of pitches, but often looking comical when doing so. If he doesn’t begin to make significant progress in his approach and pitch recognition, everything else he brings to the table just isn’t going to matter. Instead of maturing in 2009, he went backwards.
Ephemera: Halman struck out 50 times in the month of May alone, over just 97 at-bats.
Perfect World Projection: If he figures it out, he’s a star, but those chances seem dim at this point.
Path to the Big Leagues: He has no path until he stops whiffing once every 2.5 at-bats.
Timetable: Halman will likely return to Double-A in 2010 as part of what could end up being a make-or-break season for his prospect status.
11. Maikel Cleto, RHP
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2006 (Mets)
2009 Stats: 13.50 ERA (0.2-3-1-1) at Rookie-level (1 G); 5.33 ERA (25.1-35-11-24) at Low-A (8 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: Just missed
Year in Review: A power arm acquired from New York in the J.J. Putz three-way deal, Cleto spent the first half of 2009 stuck in the Dominican due to visa issues, and he looked rusty upon his return.
The Good: Cleto’s upside remains considerable, as his fastball sits in the mid-90s with a bit of sink, touching 98 at times. He’s a big, physical presence on the mound and built to eat innings.
The Bad: One scout classified Cleto simply as “a spectacular mess.” Beyond the impressive velocity, he brings little else to the table, as his slider and changeup are rudimentary offerings.
Ephemera: Cleto dominated Peoria during his brief Midwest League tenure, striking out 10 and allowing just one run over eight innings. In his six appearances against other opponents, he had an ERA of 7.27.
Perfect World Projection: He’s a power arm for sure, but without refinement, he’s going to be in the bullpen.
Path to the Big Leagues: As a reliever, he could move quickly, but at his age, it’s too early to commit to that role.
Timetable: Cleto’s spring showing will determine his assignment, but he could begin the year back at Clinton in order to find some success and avoid the nightmare of pitching in High Desert.
The Sleeper: Right-hander Anthony Varvaro is a small right-hander with a big arm who impressed scouts with his velocity and command in the Arizona Fall League and could end up as a late-inning relief specialist.
Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (Born 4/1/84 or later)
1. Felix Hernandez, RHP
2. Dustin Ackley, OF/2B
3. Michael Saunders, OF
4. Gabriel Noriega, SS
5. Adam Moore, C
6. Alex Liddi, 3B
7. Nick Franklin, SS
8. Johermyn Chavez, OF
9. Guillermo Pimentel, OF
10. Yusmeiro Petit, RHP
Hernandez is a no-brainer as the top talent, and 2009 is really just the beginning, as there are still two-four years of growth still in him. It will be interesting to see how he bounces back from a nearly 240-inning workload in 2010. I might be the world’s only remaining believer in Petit as a solid back-end rotation type, as despite sub-standard stuff, his deception and command have led to nearly seven strikeouts per nine in the big leagues, while his fly-ball tendencies should work better in Seattle. Just missing is reliever Shawn Kelley, a strike-zone pounding reliever who has already reached his ceiling.
Summary: The Mariners have traded away many prospects over the last two years, including an impressive trio for Cliff Lee, so the system is a bit thin. Ackley gives them an elite-level talent at the top, and while it’s not a good system overall, there are plenty of high-upside teenagers at the lower levels, so there’s plenty of potential.
Next up: the Tampa Bay Rays.