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Top Ten Prospects: Seattle Mariners
Complete Index of Top 10s

By Jim Callis
February 10, 2006


Chat Wrap: Jim Callis took your Mariners questions
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.

Bill Bavasi's second year on the job as Seattle general manager wasn't much better than the first. After the Mariners bottomed out in 2004 by going 63-99—their first last-place finish since 1992 and worst record since 1983—they didn't stand pat. Attempting to upgrade the American League's worst offense, they committed $114 million to free agents Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson.

Sexson performed as expected in 2005, but Beltre was a disappointment and so were the Mariners again. They scored one more run than they did in 2004 and went 69-93, finishing in the cellar in consecutive years for the first time ever. Seattle's record-tying 116-win season in 2001 seems much more distant than five years in the past.

There were a few silver linings, almost all of them provided by the farm system. Ultrahyped Felix Hernandez lived up to his billing and more, becoming one of the best pitchers in the major leagues the instant he set foot in Seattle on Aug. 4. Ten of his 12 outings were quality starts, and he finished 4-4, 2.67 with 77 strikeouts in 84 innings. And he did all that at age 19.

After hitting .327 in the minors and .397 in a September 2004 callup, Jeremy Reed batted a soft .254. But he proved he could more than handle center field at Safeco Field, which had been in question, and his bat should come around. Yuniesky Betancourt signed in January and reached Seattle in July. Multiple veteran scouts called him the best defensive shortstop they ever had seen, and he's the best the Mariners have had since Omar Vizquel in the early 1990s.

The bad news, as if there already wasn't enough in Seattle, is that the system can't offer any more immediate hope. A series of poor drafts has caught up to the Mariners, who forfeited four first-round picks and failed to sign another (John Mayberry Jr., who went to Stanford and became the 19th overall choice in 2005) from 2000-04. Their decision to take Michael Garciaparra 36th overall in 2001, after he barely played as a high school senior because of a football knee injury, remains one of the most puzzling choices in recent draft history. Signed for $2 million, Nomar's little brother has yet to rise above high Class A.

Since taking Alex Rodriguez with the No. 1 overall pick in 1993, the Mariners have drafted and signed exactly two players who performed well in the majors in 2005. Those two, Jason Varitek (first round, 1994) and Brian Fuentes (25th round, 1995), were traded before they were big league-ready and didn't blossom until after they left Seattle.

If not for their efforts on the international market, the Mariners' situation would be far worse. They signed Hernandez out of Venezuela and Betancourt after he defected from Cuba. Five of their top eight prospects come from five different nations: catcher Kenji Johjima (Japan), outfielder Chris Snelling (Australia), infielder Asdrubal Cabrera (Venezuela), righthander Emiliano Fruto (Colombia) and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo (Korea).

Seattle hasn't made many upgrades this offseason. Signing Johjima filled a hole, but Bavasi's next free-agent move was to get Carl Everett for a club that already has several outfield options. Giving Jarrod Washburn a four-year, $37.5 million contract may prove overly generous, and adding Matt Lawton brought in another veteran outfielder on the decline. A third-straight last-place finish looms as a distinct possibility.


1. JEFF CLEMENT, c      Born: August 21, 1983 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 215
Drafted: Southern California, 2005 (1st round)    Signed by: Greg Whitworth

Background: In 2002, Clement had a chance to become the first Iowa high school player ever drafted in the first round. But his lackluster performance at the Perfect Game predraft showcase in mid-May dropped his stock enough that he wasn't going to give up on his commitment to Southern California. Considered unsignable at that point, he went in the 12th round to the Twins. After the draft, Clement finished his prep career by leading Marshalltown to the Iowa state 4-A title and breaking Drew Henson's national high school career home run record with 75. With the Trojans, he set a school freshman record with 21 homers and hit 46 in three years, eight short of Mark McGwire's career mark. With the No. 3 overall pick in June—their earliest choice in a decade—the Mariners were zeroing in on Long Beach State shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. But the weekend before the draft, Seattle decided it already was deep in shortstops, switched gears and opted for Clement. He held out until late July before signing for $3.4 million, a club record for a drafted player. It took him a couple of weeks to get his bat going, but he finished the summer on a 25-for-68 (.368) tear that included five homers, then played well in the Arizona Fall League.

Strengths: Clement has been known for his light-tower power since he was chasing Henson's record in high school. Very few catchers in baseball history can match his lefthanded pop, and he should be a more complete hitter than the more recent candidates, such as Todd Hundley and Mickey Tettleton. After batting just .298 and .293 in his first two seasons at USC, Clement made some adjustments as a junior and improved to .348. He now has a shorter and sounder swing, stays inside the ball better and generates good backspin. He also tightened his strike zone and covered more of the plate. He's content to use the entire field because he realizes he doesn't have to pull pitches to smoke them out of the park. His bat always has been ahead of his defense, but he made significant strides behind the plate last year as well after working with USC volunteer assistant Chad Kreuter, a former big leaguer who's also the son-in-law of Trojans head coach Mike Gillespie. Clement has put to rest any doubts that he can stay behind the plate. He has average arm strength, his receiving and game-calling skills are fine and he blocks balls well. He has the leadership ability desired of a catcher and the work ethic to get better.

Weaknesses: Clement, who threw out 29 percent of basestealers in his pro debut, can improve his throwing. He needs to refine his footwork and transfer because his release gets long, costing him time and accuracy. He won't be a Gold Glover, though he should be more than adequate defensively. He's going to accumulate some strikeouts, but that's an acceptable tradeoff for his power, and he'll also draw his share of walks. Typical for a catcher, he's a below-average runner.

The Future: After signing Japanese all-star Kenji Johjima in November, the Mariners don't need to rush Clement. But Clement, who has a higher ceiling, could be ready toward the end of 2007. He'll probably open the year at high Class A Inland Empire and could be pushing for a promotion to Double-A San Antonio by midseason.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Everett (SS) .273 .400 .364 11 4 3 1 0 0 1 1 2 0 0
Wisconsin (Lo A) .319 .386 .522 113 17 36 5 0 6 20 12 25 1 2


2. ADAM JONES, of/ss        Born: August 1, 1985 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 180
Drafted: HS—San Diego, 2003 (1st round supplemental)   Signed by: Joe Boehringer

Background: Many clubs wanted to make Jones a pitcher after he hit 96 mph in high school, but the Mariners granted his wish to play every day after signing him for $925,000 as a supplemental first-round pick. Jones was developing nicely as a shortstop, but Yuniesky Betancourt's fielding wizardry led to a change in plans. Seattle had Jones play center field in the Arizona Fall League and will keep him there.


Strengths:
Though he's not a Gold Glover in center at this point, Jones reminded the Mariners a lot of Mike Cameron when he changed positions. Both are premium athletes with plus speed, solid power and strong arms. Jones improved with the bat in 2005, showing more discipline and consistency. His arm is still a cannon, and he could play shortstop if needed.

  

Weaknesses:
Jones still has a lot to learn in center field, and his biggest flaw is that he's shaky going back on flyballs over his head. He can get out of control at the plate when he tries to do too much. Breaking balls still can give him trouble.

  

The Future:
Jones hit well in Double-A last year, but Seattle may send him back there because he pressed at the plate while adjusting to center field in the AFL. If Jeremy Reed doesn't start hitting, Jones could make a play for his job in 2007.


2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Inland Empire (Hi A) .295 .374 .494 271 43 80 20 5 8 46 29 64 4 5
San Antonio (AA) .298 .365 .461 228 33 68 10 3 7 20 22 48 9 4


3. KENJI JOHJIMA, c    Born: June 8, 1976 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 200
Signed: Japan, 2005   Signed by: Yasushi Yamamoto/Ted Heid/Bob Engle/ Hide Sueyoshi

Background: The first Japanese catcher to sign with a U.S. team, Johjima agreed to a three-year, $16.5 million contract in November. A perennial all-star and Gold Glover in Japan, he was the Pacific League MVP in 2003 and batted .378 as Japan won a bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics.


Strengths:
Johjima should be a solid all-around catcher in the States. He controls the strike zone well and should produce for average as well as gap power. Defensively, he's an agile receiver with good catch-and-throw skills. He loves to run a pitching staff, and he's learning English quickly, so the language barrier shouldn't be a huge issue.

  

Weaknesses:
Having polished his game during nine seasons in the Japanese majors, Johjima has no glaring flaws. He's a below-average runner, but so are most catchers. He doesn't draw many walks because he puts the ball in play so easily. He missed time in 2005 with shoulder tendinitis and hairline fracture in his fibula, though neither is a long-term concern.

  

The Future:
Johjima won't make an Ichiro-like impact, but he should fill a position at which Seattle has gotten little production for years. Jeff Clement, the No. 3 overall pick in 2005, should be ready before Johjima's contract expires, which will make for an interesting battle.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Fukuoka (Japan) .309 .381 .557 411 70 127 22 4 24 57 33 32 3 4


4. CHRIS SNELLING, of        Born: December 3, 1981 B-T: L-L Ht: 5-10 Wt: 205
Signed: Australia, 1999   Signed by: Barry Holland

Background: The story never changes with Snelling. In 2005, he hit .370 to raise his career average to .323. He also tore the meniscus in his left knee in spring training, costing him the first two weeks of the year, and sprained the same knee shortly after a big league callup in August, ending his season.


Strengths:
Former Seattle manager Lou Piniella wanted Snelling on his Opening Day roster in 2001—when he was 19—and he has been ready to hit in the majors for years. His quick hands, discerning eye and tremendous instincts have allowed him to rake everywhere he ever has played. He has solid gap power and average arm strength.

  

Weaknesses:
Snelling’s litany of injuries includes a broken left hand and ligament damage in his left wrist (2000), a stress fracture in his right ankle (2001), a broken right thumb and blown-out left knee (2002), more problems with his left knee (2003) and a deep bone bruise in his right wrist (2004). Knee surgeries have left him with slightly below-average speed, relegating him to an outfield corner, where his 15-20 homer power is fringy.

  

The Future:
The Mariners signed Carl Everett and Matt Lawton this offseason, meaning Snelling will have to start the year at Triple-A Tacoma.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Tacoma (AAA) .370 .452 .553 246 50 91 17 2 8 46 36 43 2 3
Seattle .276 .382 .448 29 4 8 2 0 1 1 5 2 0 2


5. MATT TUIASOSOPO, ss        Born: May 10, 1986 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 210
Drafted: HS—Woodinville, Wash., 2004 (3rd round)   Signed by: Phil Geisler

Background: The Mariners didn't have picks in the first two rounds of the 2004, so they swung for the fences with their third-rounder. They took Tuiasosopo and bought him out of a football scholarship to play quarterback at Washington with a $2.29 million bonus, a record for his round. Both his father Manu and brother Marques have played in the NFL.


Strengths:
With his bat speed and strength, Tuiasosopo projects as a middle-of-the-order run producer. He handled low Class A well as a teenager, earning Midwest League all-star honors while making progress in all phases of his game. A fine all-around athlete, he has good speed and a strong arm. He also shows soft hands on defense.

  

Weaknesses:
Though Seattle has kept Tuiasosopo at shortstop so far, scouts doubt he has the actions or quickness to stay there. He'll slow down as he fills out, eventually resulting in a move to third base or the outfield. He hasn't reached much of his power potential yet thanks to his inside-out swing and poor pitch recognition.

  

The Future:
He'll continue to play shortstop this year in high Class A. Adrian Beltre's contract runs through 2009, buying Tuiasosopo plenty of time to develop.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Wisconsin (Lo A) .276 .359 .386 409 72 113 21 3 6 45 44 96 8 5


6. ASDRUBAL CABRERA, ss/2b  Born: November 13, 1985 B-T: B-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 170
Signed: Venezuela, 2002     Signed by: Emilio Carrasquel

Background: An all-star shortstop in each of his first two seasons, Cabrera ceded the position to Matt Tuiasosopo at low Class A Wisconsin and dazzled at second base. Promoted to high Class A when Adam Jones moved to Double-A, Cabrera returned to shortstop and didn't miss a beat. He finished the season as Tacoma's starting shortstop in the Pacific Coast League playoffs.


Strengths:
Managers rated Cabrera the best defensive second baseman in the Midwest League, and some voted for him at shortstop. He's an acrobat with plus range, arm strength, hands and instincts. Offensively, he's a switch-hitter who makes contact and has some pop. His speed is average.

  

Weaknesses:
Some scouts wonder how much offense Cabrera will provide in the majors. His bat speed is just average, he’s often too aggressive at the plate, and he doesn't stand out in terms of on-base skills, power or basestealing ability.

  

The Future:
Seattle wants to spread out its shortstop prospects, so Cabrera could return to Triple-A at age 20. He'll eventually have to beat out Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop or Jose Lopez at second base to start for the Mariners.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Wisconsin (Lo A) .318 .407 .474 192 26 61 12 3 4 30 30 32 2 6
Inland Empire (Hi A) .284 .325 .418 225 31 64 15 6 1 26 15 47 3 1
Tacoma (AAA) .217 .250 .304 23 4 5 0 1 0 3 1 4 0 0


7. SHIN-SOO CHOO, of      Born: July 13, 1982 B-T: L-L Ht: 5-11 Wt: 178
Signed: Korea, 2000  Signed by: Jae Lee/Jim Colborn

Background: The MVP of the 2000 World Junior Championships as a two-way star who dominated more as a pitcher, Choo became a full-time outfielder after signing for $1.335 million. He breezed through the minors until 2005, when he struggled in Triple-A. He did play in his third straight Futures Game, homering off Toronto's Zach Jackson.


Strengths:
Choo consistently has hit for average, and the Mariners continue to believe his strength will translate into 20-25 homers annually. He has good speed and the instincts to steal bases. He led Pacific Coast League outfielders with 24 assists, and managers rated his arm as the league's best. A natural right fielder, he moved to left in 2005 because of Ichiro's presence in Seattle.

  

Weaknesses:
Scouts from other organizations aren't as optimistic about Choo's power. They think his inside-out swing and approach will limit him to 10-15 homers per year, substandard for a regular corner outfielder. He tried to hit for more power last season and got too pull-conscious. Defensively, his routes and throwing accuracy can get better.

  

The Future:
Choo will have to repeat Triple-A. In the fight to become Seattle's left fielder of the future, Chris Snelling is a better hitter but Choo is a more dependable, well-rounded player.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Tacoma (AAA) .282 .382 .431 429 73 121 21 5 11 54 69 97 20 10
Seattle .056 .190 .056 18 1 1 0 0 0 1 3 4 0 0


8. EMILIANO FRUTO, rhp    Born: June 6 1984 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 240
Signed: Colombia, 2000    Signed by: Curtis Wallace

Background: Signed for $250,000 out of Colombia, Fruto was an enigma during his first four seasons in the system. His arm was intriguing, but his lack of focus or command left his managers reluctant to use him in close games. He matured in 2005, when managers rated him the best relief prospect in the Double-A Texas League.


Strengths:
Fruto easily has the best stuff in a farm system hurting for pitching prospects. His curveball and changeup are the best in the system. Both are plus pitches, as his fastball, which jumped from the low 90s to the mid-90s last year when he started using it more often. His control improved as well. His slider gives him a fourth pitch that's average.

  

Weaknesses:
While Fruto has more than enough stuff to start, the Mariners have mostly used him in relief because of questions about his maturity and poise. His weight has risen from 170 pounds to 240 since he signed, though he has retained his athleticism.

  

The Future:
Seattle is toying with the idea of giving Fruto another shot as a starter, a role he hasn't filled since early 2003. His upside is huge—and so is his potential to flame out quickly.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
San Antonio (AA) 2 3 2.57 40 0 0 12 67 56 6 22 63 .231
Tacoma (AAA) 1 2 13.09 9 0 0 2 11 11 1 11 12 .268


9. CLINT NAGEOTTE, rhp       Born: October 25, 1980 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 225
Drafted: HS—Brooklyn, Ohio, 1999 (5th round)    Signed by: Ken Madeja

Background: Nageotte has hit some speed bumps since leading the minors in strikeouts in 2002 and topping the Texas League in 2003. He got crushed in his 2004 major league debut and became a full-time reliever last year after missing most of the first three months with a strained forearm.


Strengths:
Nageotte's stuff is still good, but it has taken a downturn in the last two years. He used to own one of the nastiest sliders in the game, but it has lost some velocity and sharpness and now grades as a 65 rather than an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His fastball has lost 2-3 mph, sitting at 91-92 mph as he has tried to add sink and command.

  

Weaknesses:
Most pitchers see their stuff improve when they work shorter stints out of the bullpen, so Nageotte's slippage raises a red flag. He has had health issues crop up over the last three seasons, including elbow tendinitis in 2003 and a lower-back strain in 2004. His control still needs to improve. He never came up with a trustworthy changeup during his days as a starter.

  

The Future:
Desperate for pitching help, Seattle could move Nageotte back to the rotation. He has a chance to make the Mariners out of spring training, but more Triple-A innings wouldn't hurt.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
AZL Mariners (R) 0 0 0.00 1 1 0 0 3 0 0 0 6 .000
Tacoma (AAA) 2 1 2.65 19 0 0 2 34 21 2 22 35 .176
Seattle 0 0 6.75 3 0 0 0 4 6 0 1 1 .353


10. ROB JOHNSON, c     Born: July 22, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 200
Drafted: Houston, 2004 (4th round)    Signed by: Kyle Van Hook

Background: He doesn't get nearly as much attention as Jeff Clement and Kenji Johjima, but Johnson is a fine catching prospect in his own right. Managers rated him the best defensive catcher in the Midwest League in 2005, his first full pro season. He was the starting backstop for Team USA at the World Cup in September, where he hit .273.


Strengths:
Johnson makes consistent contact at the plate, drilling line drives to both gaps. He's a quality receiver with a strong arm, and he threw out 37 percent of basestealers last year. He's a better athlete than Clement or Johjima and runs the bases very well for a catcher. His leadership skills are strong as well.

  

Weaknesses:
Johnson has the frame and strength to hit homers, but never has shown the pop scouts have expected. His power is more evident in batting practice than during games. He can get impatient at the plate, and it's not a sure thing that he'll have enough bat to be a quality regular.

  

The Future:
Johnson probably will open 2006 in Double-A, but Clement could be pushing for regular time there by midseason. Both of them could be ready to challenge Johjima for playing time in the next couple of years.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Wisconsin (Lo A) .272 .319 .430 305 41 83 19 1 9 51 20 31 10 3
Inland Empire (Hi A) .314 .381 .443 70 15 22 3 0 2 12 10 14 2 0


Photo Credits:
Johjima: Wayne Graczyk
Tuiasosopo: Bill Mitchell
Jones: Steve Moore
Clement: David Stoner

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