Mariners Top 10 Prospects
By Jim Callis
A year after tying a 95-year-old record with 116 victories, the Mariners came up short of the playoffs. They led the American League West by five games at the all-star break but went 38-36 in the second half as the Athletics and Angels steamed past them. Manager Lou Piniella, who had become as much of a franchise icon as Ken Griffey, Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez, followed them out of town and went home to Tampa Bay.
Also coming off a banner 2001, the farm system fell back a little. After leading baseball with a .577 winning percentage in 2000 and ranking third at .560 in 2001, Seattle affiliates had a .471 mark last year to place 23rd. Where five of the six farm clubs reached the playoffs in 2001, just three qualified in 02.
More troubling than wins and losses was the rash of injuries that struck many of Seattles top prospects. It started in spring training, when lefthander Ryan Anderson and righthander Jeff Heaverlo went down with torn labrums. Anderson missed all of 2001 with the same injury, and his career is now in doubt after he ranked atop the Mariners prospect list for five years running.
Righthander Rafael Soriano missed nearly a month with a strained shoulder, and outfielder Chris Snelling tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during his eighth big league game. Infielder Antonio Perez had wrist problems for the second straight year, then went to the Devil Rays in the Piniella-Randy Winn exchange. Catcher Ryan Christianson broke a bone in his foot and lost two months.
The draft didnt go well for Seattle either. The Mariners knew first-round pick John Mayberry Jr. would be a tough sign, and he never backed off his $3 million price tag. They also failed to sign third-rounder Eddy Martinez-Esteve, another outfielder with a premium bat.
None of this is to suggest Seattle will stop contending or developing talent, because neither is going to happen. Just eight major league clubs won more games, and up-and-comers such as shortstop Jose Lopez, lefthander Travis Blackley and third baseman Greg Dobbs blossomed in 2002.
The Mariners have legitimate expectations of returning to the postseason in 2003. They also hope the sailing will be smoother than it was last year.
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996. Signed by: Ramon de los Santos.
Background: For a guy who didnt start pitching until 1999, Soriano has made remarkable progress. He spent his first two years in pro ball hitting .220 as an outfielder. After getting acclimated to the mound, Soriano ranked as one of the low Class A Midwest Leagues top pitching prospects in 2000 based primarily on his fastball, but he now projects as a three-pitch starter. Though his arrival at spring training was delayed by three weeks while his identity and birthdate were being confirmed by immigration officialsnone of Sorianos vital statistics changedhe pitched well enough at Double-A San Antonio to earn his first big league promotion in early May. After two scoreless relief appearances, he pitched well in five of his first six starts. Then he strained his shoulder and landed on the disabled list for three weeks. Sent back to Double-A once he was healthy, Soriano won the Texas League championship game. He allowed one run and two hits in seven innings while striking out 14, including three punchouts of Rangers slugger Mark Teixeira.
Strengths: The Mariners were encouraged by Sorianos playoff performance because he had all three of his pitches working. He threw in the mid-90s and topped out at 97 mph and showed his usual hard slider. Best of all, he threw 12-15 changeups to keep a predominantly lefthanded lineup at bay. When he made the transition to the mound, Soriano quickly demonstrated polish and smooth mechanics. He is a true power pitcher, and his fastball/slider combination would allow him to close games if Seattle needs him in that role.
Weaknesses: Soriano missed the latter part of 2001 with an impingement in his shoulder, and the joint bothered him again last year. With a career high of just 137 innings, he has yet to prove he can handle a full-season grind. Soriano needs more consistency and trust in his changeup. He doesnt beat himself with walks but needs better command in the strike zone.
The Future: The Mariners have two openings in their rotation, and Soriano is a prime candidate to fill one of them. Even if he starts 2003 at Triple-A Tacoma, Soriano will get called up before too long.
Click here for prospects 2-10.
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