Mariners Prospects 2-10
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 165. Signed: Australia, 1999. Signed by: Barry Holland.
Background: Since signing at 17, Snelling has done two things: rake line drives and get hurt. He was the Midwest Leagues best hitting prospect in 2000, when he broke his left hand and injured his left wrist. He won the high Class A California League batting title despite a stress fracture in his right ankle in 2001. Last year, he broke his right thumb in spring training and blew out his left knee in his eighth big league game.
Strengths: Snelling is a pure hitter who has batted .316 as a pro despite annually being one of the youngest regulars in his league. He has average speed, but his tremendous instincts allow him to play center field. He has the arm for right field when he moves to a corner in the majors.
Weaknesses: His recklessness is exciting, but Snelling may have to tone it down. He has good gap power but may never hit more than 20 homers, below-average power for a corner outfielder.
The Future: Snelling is expected to miss part of spring training as he completes his recovery from knee surgery. Hes the clubs best candidate for left field but may get some Triple-A seasoning.
3. Jose Lopez, ss
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 170. Signed: Venezuela, 2000. Signed by: Bob Engle/Jose Moreno.
Background: Lopez held his own as the youngest player in the short-season Northwest League in 2001, and his bat took a quantum leap last year in the California League, where he was the second-youngest regular. He led all minor league shortstops in hitting and topped the Cal League in hits and doubles. He was Seattles minor league player of the year.
Strengths: Lopez defensive abilities have been apparent since he made his pro debut. Managers said he had the best infield arm in the Cal League, and he has fine hands, range and actions at shortstop. He has excellent instincts in all phases of the game, making him an adept hitter and a threat on the bases. He has plenty of pop for a middle infielder.
Weaknesses: Because he excels at making contact, Lopez rarely works deep counts or walks. Hes filling out and may outgrow shortstop, though hell still have enough bat for second or third base. Like most teenagers, he could be more consistent on a daily basis.
The Future: Doctors have discovered an extra bone in Lopez right foot, which may require surgery. Barring a major setback, hell play in Double-A this year at 19.
4. Shin-Soo Choo, of
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 178. Signed: Korea, 2000. Signed by: Jae Lee/Jim Colborn.
Background: The Mariners gave seven-figure bonuses to the first two Koreans they signed, righthander Cha Seung Baek and Choo, who attended the same high school. While Baek has been sidetracked by Tommy John surgery, Choo has put together back-to-back all-star seasons in the low minors. He and Jose Lopez represented Seattle at the 2002 Futures Game.
Strengths: Like the hitters ahead of him on this list, Choo enhances his solid tools with superb instincts. Hes a natural line-drive hitter, and his average speed plays better on the diamond than on a stopwatch. Choos most impressive tool is his arm, which delivered 95 mph fastballs when he led Korea to the gold medal at the 2000 World Junior Championship.
Weaknesses: The question for Choo is how much power hell develop. The Mariners have toned down their expecations, though they still point to his bat speed and leverage and envision 20-25 homers a year. He has a good eye at the plate but sometimes can be too passive.
The Future: Choo probably wont play center field for Seattle, so hell have to boost his power. He should reach Double-A by the end of 2003.
5. Clint Nageotte, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HSBrooklyn, Ohio, 1999 (5th round). Signed by: Ken Madeja.
Background: An all-state basketball player at his Ohio high school, Nageotte has seen his baseball career take off since he has focused on one sport. He won the championship game of the Rookie-level Arizona League playoffs in his 2000 pro debut, rated as the Midwest Leagues top pitching prospect as an encore, then led the minors in strikeouts last year.
Strengths: Nageottes out pitch is a slider that ranks among the best in the minors. It has allowed him to average 11.3 whiffs per nine innings as a pro and gives righthanders no chance against him. His 91-94 mph fastball gives him a second plus pitch.
Weaknesses: Though he has more than enough fastball, Nageotte doesnt locate it well in the strike zone and often scraps it and goes with his slider. His changeup isnt effective, so right now he just has one pitch that he trusts. With better command, he could lower his pitch counts and work deeper into games.
The Future: If Nageotte can improve his pitch selection, command and offspeed pitch, he could move to the top of this list. Hell work on those facets of his game this year in Double-A.
6. Aaron Taylor, rhp
Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HSHahira, Ga., 1996 (11th round). Signed by: Rob English (Braves).
Background: Taylor comes from Hahira, Ga., and Lowndes High, which also spawned the Drew brothersbig leaguers J.D. and Tim, and current Florida State star Stephen. Taylors career was going nowhere when he quit during spring training 2001 after posting a 6.26 ERA in his first five seasons. Once he returned, he went from low A to the majors in 15 months.
Strengths: Pitchers dont come much more intimidating than Taylor, whos tall and features three dastardly pitches. His fastball reaches 94-97 mph every time out and peaks at 99. If hitters start looking for heat, he can cross them up with his slider and splitter.
Weaknesses: Taylors secondary pitches require more consistency after deserting him at times during his September callup. His splitter is generally more effective than his slider, which flattens out if he drops his arm angle. Command has never been his strong suit.
The Future: Spring training will determine whether Taylor opens the season in Seattle or Triple-A. Hes the heir apparent to Mariners closer Kazuhiro Sasaki.
7. Travis Blackley, lhp
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190. Signed: Australia, 2000. Signed by: Jim Colborn.
Background: While closing in on Shin-Soo Choo at the 2000 World Junior Championship, the Mariners spotted Blackley, who lost to Korea in the semifinals. After a promising pro debut in 2001, Blackley sustained a small fracture in his elbow while pitching in instructional league. He returned by the beginning of May, skipped a level and fared well as the California Leagues youngest starting pitcher.
Strengths: Blackley is similar to Craig Anderson, another Mariners lefthander from Australia: His best attributes are his changeup and his command, and he has a solid curveball. He has a higher ceiling because hes more projectable and throws in the high 80s, while Anderson works in the low 80s. Blackleys competitive nature has allowed him to handle every challenge thrown his way.
Weaknesses: With three pitches that should be average or better to go with an advanced feel for pitching, Blackley has no obvious shortcoming. Adding velocity would be nice, but plenty of lefties have been effective working in the high 80s.
The Future: Double-A will provide Blackleys biggest test yet in 2003. At this point, hes on track to reach Seattle by 22.
8. Rett Johnson, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 211. Drafted: Coastal Carolina, 2000 (8th round). Signed by: Craig Bell.
Background: Johnson was an eighth-round bargain after he set Coastal Carolina records for innings (133) and strikeouts (151) in 2000. The workload sapped his velocity, causing clubs to back off. He has bounced back and hasnt had any physical problems since signing.
Strengths: Johnsons 86-88 mph slider isnt far behind Clint Nageottes. He complements it with a 91-93 mph fastball that has nice sink. Johnson thrives on pressure. His pitches seem to have a little extra when he gets into a jam, and he had a 1.80 postseason ERA as San Antonio won the Texas League title.
Weaknesses: Johnsons shortcomings also are similar to Nageottes. He needs to refine his changeup and command, though he does a better job of establishing his fastball.
The Future: While hes ticketed to start 2003 in Triple-A, Johnson could surface in Seattle during the summer. Hes probably no lower than third behind Rafael Soriano and J.J. Putz among Mariners farmhands ready to help the big club as a starter, and Johnsons fastball/slider combo also would be an asset out of the bullpen.
9. Greg Dobbs, 3b/of
Age: 24. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 205. Drafted: Oklahoma, NDFA 2001. Signed by: Myron Pines.
Background: Dobbs went from Riverside (Calif.) Community College to Long Beach State to Oklahoma, earning all-conference honors four times. After sitting out 2000 when he was academically ineligible, he hit .428 to lead the Big 12 Conference and signed as a fifth-year senior before the 2001 draft. The Mariners drafted him in the 53rd round out of high school.
Strengths: Dobbs cemented his reputation for hitting everywhere he has gone with his Double-A performance; he hit .409 in the Texas League playoffs. He has power as well, and projects as a .280-.300 hitter with 20-25 homers.
Weaknesses: Seattle knew Dobbs bat was ready for high Class A at the start of 2002, but sent him to the Midwest League so he could work on playing third base. He has adequate hands, range and arm strength, but his footwork and throwing angles are erratic and lead to wayward throws. He made 23 errors in 72 games at third last year.
The Future: Dobbs has enough bat for first base or left field, but his value will be enhanced if he can stick at the hot corner. Considering Seattles need there, hell be given every opportunity to do so.
10. Jamal Strong, of
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Nebraska, 2000 (6th round). Signed by: Mark Lummus.
Background: Strong has run wild since turning pro, stealing 188 bases (at an 82 percent success rate) and scoring 241 runs in 334 games. He has won two stolen-base crowns, including last year in the Texas League, where managers also rated him the circuits best and fastest baserunner.
Strengths: Strongs speed grades out as an 8 on the 2-to-8 scouting scale. Just as important, he realizes its his ticket to the big leagues. He does what he can to get on base, drawing walks and hitting the ball on the ground. He has improved his reads as a basestealer and center fielder.
Weaknesses: His arm never has been strong, though it has improved and is playable in center. He does get to balls and get rid of them quickly. While Strong doesnt try to hit for power, hell have to produce a few more extra-base hits. He has some strength but is still learning to deal with pitchers who bust him inside.
The Future: With Mike Cameron sliding in the second half and Kenny Kelly struggling in Triple-A during 2002, Strongs chances to one day start for Seattle have increased. Hell be one step away in Tacoma this year.
Best of the Rest
Despite the offseason trade of Antonio Perez to the Devil Rays, the Mariners still have plenty of middle-infield depth beyond Jose Lopez. They thought so highly of shortstop Luis Ugueto that they paid the Pirates to take him second overall in the 2001 major league Rule 5 draft and kept him on the major league roster all season, using him mostly as a pinch-runner. Hes the best glove man in the system with plus defensive tools across the board, but he still has to prove he can hit.
Willie Bloomquist convinced Seattle he could hit with a .455 average in 33 September at-bats. He doesnt have a standout tool, but his makeup and versatility could make him a premium utilityman. He played at least 10 games at five different positions for Triple-A Tacoma in 2002. Second baseman Ismael Castro was the short-season Northwest Leagues MVP, batting .303-9-48. He shows a quick bat and power from both sides of the plate. Shortstop Michael Garciaparra was a surprise supplemental first-round pick in 2001 and made his pro debut last year. The Mariners love his instincts and think hell be a solid all-around player. Beyond that group, second basemen Tim Merritt and Evel Bastida-Martinez and shortstop Ruben Castillo have promise. Merritt and Bastida-Martinez are more offensive-minded, while Castillo has one of the strongest infield arms in the minors.
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The Top 10 Prospects lists are based on players' projected long-term worth and on 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 Opening Day 2003.
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