Seattle Mariners Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Jim Callis
1. Ryan Anderson, lhp
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-10. Wt.: 215. Drafted: HSDearborn, Mich., 1997 (1st round). Signed by: Ken Madeja.
Background: Anderson has ranked No. 1 on this list for five consecutive seasons. He didnt figure to be eligible again because he was expected to lose his rookie status in 2001. But while the games other star lefthander prospect, C.C. Sabathia, won 17 games for Cleveland, Anderson didnt take the mound during the regular season. He couldnt get loose during a spring workout and doctors diagnosed a torn labrum, requiring shoulder surgery that kept him out until instructional league. It was a blow to an organization that had just lost another rotation candidate, Gil Meche, to a similar injury the month before.
Strengths: Few players can match Andersons ceiling. The only lefthander in baseball whos more intimidating is Randy Johnson, to whom hes often compared. Anderson isnt nicknamed "Little Unit" for nothing. He has a 94-97 mph fastball that he has used to average 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings as a pro. He was refining his slider into a plus pitch and developing his changeup before he got hurt. He also had improved his command each season. With his stuff, theres no question Anderson can become a legitimate No. 1 starter. He should be stronger than ever once his rehabilitation is complete.
Weaknesses: Andersons latest step was to throw in the bullpen in instructional league, so he still has not come all the way back. His career record is just 20-26 because hes never put together an extended run of dominance. Anderson still has to improve his secondary pitches and control, though he did hold his own in Triple-A before he reached the legal drinking age. Lefthanders shouldnt stand a chance against him, but theyve hit .329 off him since he reached Double-A.
The Future: The Mariners arent going to take any chances with Anderson. Hell report early to spring training. He wont be in the running for a rotation spot and may open the year in Double-A San Antonio, where the climate is warmer than in Triple-A Tacoma. Hell be kept on tight pitch counts wherever he goes. His future is still bright, though he wont have much if any major league impact before 2003.
2. Rafael Soriano
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996. Signed by: Ramon de los Santos.
Background: Soriano spent two years in the Rookie-level Arizona League as an outfielder, hitting .220 while his best tool clearly was his arm. Converted to the mound in 1999, he has been a quick learner. Last year he held hitters to a .174 average, second behind only Josh Beckett among minor league starters.
Strengths: Sorianos arm is nearly as live as Ryan Andersons. His mid-90s fastball and hard slider give him two plus pitches. Hes not a finished product by any means, but he has pretty good polish considering his experience. Thats especially true of his mechanics.
Weaknesses: Hes still refining his changeup, but Soriano has made enough strides toward adding the third pitch hell need as a starter. His control also needs some tweaking. He missed the final three weeks of 2001 with a shoulder impingement after pitching a career-high 137 innings, so his durability is slightly in question.
The Future: Based on his stuff, Soriano could go to Triple-A, but the Mariners may start him in Double-A this year so he can focus on his pitchability. He could be competing for a big league job in 2003.
3. Antonio Perez, ss
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1998. Signed by: Johnny Almaraz (Reds).
Background: When the Mariners traded Ken Griffey to the Reds, they wanted an infielder as part of the package. Cincinnati refused to give up Pokey Reese (who was nontendered this winter) or Gookie Dawkins (who hit .226 in Double-A this year), so Seattle wound up with Perez. He immediately blossomed into a blue-chip prospect in 2000, but played just five games last year because he had a broken navicular bone in his right wrist.
Strengths: Perez is a rare five-tool shortstop. He can hit for average and powerhe led the California League in slugging as a teenagerand has basestealing speed. His strong arm, soft hands and range make him the best defensive shortstop in the organization, including the majors.
Weaknesses: Perez let success get to his head and arrived out of shape for spring training last year. He still has to work on some little things, such as making more contact, getting better reads and jumps as a basestealer and improving his defensive footwork.
The Future: Though he lost 2001 to an injury apparently suffered playing winter ball, Perez is still well ahead of the development curve. Hell spend this year in Double-A at age 20.
4. Chris Snelling, of
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 165. Signed: Australia, 1999. Signed by: Barry Holland.
Background: Some Mariners officials thought Snelling was undersized when they signed him, but he has played big. A member of Australias 2000 Olympic team, he was rated the best position prospect in the Midwest League that year. Last season he won the California League batting title while playing through a stress fracture in his right ankle.
Strengths: Hitters dont come much purer than Snelling, but his best attributes might be his confidence and instincts. He has no trouble making hard contact or handling lefthanders. Despite average speed, hes a terrific center fielder because of his jumps and direct routes to balls. He has enough arm to play in right.
Weaknesses: Snelling often gets compared to Lenny Dysktra, and like Dykstra he plays so aggressively that he beats himself up. He broke his hand and injured his wrist diving into a wall in 2000, then hurt his ankle last year. While he has good gap power, he may not hit more than 15-20 homers a season in the majors.
The Future: Though Seattle has promoted Snelling aggressively, he hasnt been fazed. Dont bet against him reaching Triple-A this year or challenging for a big league job in 2003.
5. Chris Nageotte, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HSBrooklyn, Ohio, 1999 (5th round). Signed by: Ken Madeja.
Background: A basketball star in high school, Nageotte signed too late to play in 1999. He has made up for lost time, winning the one-game playoff in the Arizona League in 2000 and ranking as the top pitching prospect in the Midwest League last year. He led the league in strikeouts and strikeouts per nine innings (11.0).
Strengths: Nageotte had the best stuff in a prospect-laden Wisconsin rotation that also featured Rett Johnson and Derrick Van Dusen. Nageottes lively low-90s fastball and wicked slider give him two above-average pitches. Last year he did a nice job of tightening his slider, which had been more slurvy in 2000, and improving his command.
Weaknesses: Nageotte needs to develop a better changeup so he can combat lefthanders, who hit .263 against him in 2001. He also can refine his control within the strike zone. He must get stronger so he can pitch deeper into games. He had a 2.04 ERA through the first four innings last year, but a 5.33 mark afterward.
The Future: While some organizations might want to expedite an arm like Nageottes, the Mariners can be patient because of all the pitching they have on hand. Hes ticketed for high Class A in 2002.
6. Jeff Heaverlo, rhp
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 215. Drafted: Washington, 1999 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Phil Geisler.
Background: Of all the players on Seattles top 10 list, Heaverlo easily has the least imposing physical gifts. But the son of former big leaguer Dave Heaverlo exudes pitching savvy and is 27-13 in 21ZŁ2 years a pro. He led the Double-A Texas League in complete games, shutouts (a minor league-best four) and strikeouts in 2001.
Strengths: Heaverlo just knows how to get batters out. His best pitch is a slider that isnt quite in the same league as Clint Nageottes. His changeup has improved dramatically since he has signed and eventually will give him a second plus pitch. His fastball has life and average velocity, topping out at 92 mph. With his command and ability to mix his pitches and speeds, his fastball is good enough.
Weaknesses: Heaverlos lone weakness last year was lefthanders, who hit .303 against him (compared to .202 by righties). His changeup is the key to doing better in that regard. He probably wont be more than a middle-of-the-rotation starter, though he could be a good one.
The Future: Once he proves himself in Triple-A, Heaverlo will get a look in Seattle. Hes probably first on the list if the Mariners need to pluck a starter out of the minor this season.
7. Shin-Soo Choo, of
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 178. Signed: Korea, 2000. Signed by: Jae Lee/Jim Colborn.
Background: The second player signed by the Mariners out of Korea, Choo attended the same high school as the first, righthander Cha Seung Baek. Seattle didnt have a first-round pick in 2000 and compensated by pouring $1.335 million into signing Choo. He was MVP of the World Junior Championship that summer, beating Team USA twice as Korea won the gold medal. In his pro debut, he led the Arizona League in runs, triples and walks.
Strengths: Though Choo threw in the mid-90s as a lefthander, the Mariners decided he has more upside as a center fielder. Hes a disciplined hitter with huge power potential. His speed serves him well as a basestealer and defender. Hes poised, works hard and adapted to the U.S. quickly.
Weaknesses: Choo showed holes in his swing in the AZL. Pitchers pounded him inside and he struggled to adjust. He needs to work on his jumps and instincts in the outfield.
The Future: The Mariners promoted Choo for the Midwest League playoffs last year, and hell return there in 2002. The system is loaded with center fielders, so hell probably remain in Wisconsin all year.
8. Ryan Christianson, c
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HSRiverside, Calif., 1999 (1st round). Signed by: Steve Rath.
Background: Many high school catchers drafted in the first round turn out to be busts, but Christianson looks like an exception. He made the best of a difficult situation last year at high Class A San Bernardino, which built a marketing campaign around him because he grew up 10 miles away. His brother Robby pitched in the Seattle system in 1996-97.
Strengths: Shoulder tendinitis robbed Christianson of arm strength in 2000, but he was healthy again and ranked third in the California League by nailing 38 percent of basestealers last year. Cal League pitcher of the year Matt Thornton credited Christianson with showing him how to break down hitters. Offensively, he has burgeoning power. Some of his doubles will turn into homers as he gets stronger and more experienced.
Weaknesses: Christianson tends to get pull-conscious. He wont hit for average until he uses the whole field more often and tightens his strike zone. He runs like a catcher.
The Future: Seattles offseason trade for Ben Davis doesnt have to pose a roadblock for Christensen if he can make adjustments at the plate. Hell work on that in Double-A this year.
9. Jamal Strong, of
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Nebraska, 2000 (6th round). Signed by: Mark Lummus.
Background: Named MVP of the short-season Northwest League in his pro debut, Strong proved he was no fluke last year. He was a postseason all-star and a Top 10 Prospect in both the Midwest and California Leagues. He also played in the Futures Game and was the organizations minor league player of the year.
Strengths: Strong is the best leadoff prospect in the game. He ranked second in the minors in runs and steals and fourth in on-base percentage (.436) in 2001. He plays to his strengths, which start with top-of-the-line speed. He hits the ball on the ground, draws walks and is both a prolific and proficient basestealer. His center-field range is also impressive.
Weaknesses: Strong doesnt have much juice in his bat or in his arm. Its not a huge handicap for his style, though it would be nice if he could sting the ball in the gaps more often. He hasnt thrown well since dislocating his shoulder in college, but compensates by getting to balls quickly and unloading in a hurry.
The Future: Hes ready for Double-A. Strong will have to break through Seattles glut of outfield talent to earn big league playing time.
10. Matt Thornton, lhp
Age: 25. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 220. Drafted: Grand Valley State (Mich.), 1998 (1st round). Signed by: Ken Madeja.
Background: Thornton was a surprise first-round pick in 1998 out of NCAA Division II Grand Valley State, where he was better known as a basketball player. He never won a game in college or in his first two years as a pro, when he was beset by a sore elbow and tricep tendinitis. He finally justified his selection in 2001, when he led the California League in strikeouts and was both the organizations and the circuits pitcher of the year.
Strengths: Thornton always had a live arm but until last year he lacked the confidence to succeed. His fastball sits at 90-92 mph and has plenty of life, and he can get it by righthanders when he throws it down and in. His slider got a lot better in 2001, making him death on lefties, who batted .208 with no homers in 77 at-bats.
Weaknesses: The next steps for Thornton are to improve his changeup and his command. There were questions about his durability, but he put those to rest by holding up for 27 starts last year.
The Future: If he cant master a third pitch, Thorntons fastball and slider alone would make him an intriguing reliever. Hell pitch out of the Double-A rotation in 2002.
Rest of the Best:
11. Kenny Kelly, of
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