Seattle Mariners: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Seattle Mariners: Scouting Reports

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, 2008.

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Seattle Mariners

To say the Mariners had a season of ups and downs would be an understatement.

They won 88 games, fifth-most in the American League, and held the lead for the wild-card berth deep into the season. Yet they were outscored by 19 runs on the year, and they lost 13 of 14 games to close August and open September, ruining their playoff chances.

Seattle had an eight-game winning streak earlier in the year—during which manager Mike Hargrove resigned. He was replaced by bench coach John McLaren, who guided the team as high as 20 games over .500 before its collapse.

At least the season was a step in the right direction after the franchise's precipitous decline in the last few seasons. The Mariners haven't made the playoffs since 2001 and averaged just 70 wins a year from 2004-06—their worst three-year stretch since the dark days of the 1980s.

The team's success in 2007 was built around three players: Ichiro Suzuki, who led the AL in hits for the fourth time and kept his Gold Glove and All-Star Game streaks alive at seven years; Felix Hernandez, who went 14-7, 3.92 and took another step toward superstardom at age 21; and J.J. Putz, who saved 40 games with a 1.38 ERA.

The farm system helped the bullpen significantly. Brandon Morrow, the fifth overall pick in the 2006 draft, stuck in Seattle all year and posted 18 holds. Sean Green, 28 and in his first full big league season, contributed 13. Two other rookies, Eric O'Flaherty and Ryan Rowland-Smith, gave Seattle a pair of dependable lefty options.

He no longer qualifies as a rookie—or as a prospect for the purposes of this list—but 2008 should be Adam Jones' coming out party in the majors. He has played surprisingly sparingly during previous callups, but he's an all-around athlete who hit .314 with 25 homers in Triple-A last season.

One year after landing Morrow, Chris Tillman and Tony Butler in the draft, the Mariners again went for pure arm strength, taking Canadian righthander Phillippe Aumont with the 11th overall pick. After Aumont, they maintained their focus on pitching, their greatest need at the major and minor league levels.

Seattle also continued to show open-mindedness in all areas of player development, drafting players equally from the college and high school ranks and committing fully to the international market. Aside from the United States, Mariners prospects hail from Australia, Canada, Curacao, the Dominican Republic, Italy, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Taiwan and Venezuela.

The Mariners invested $2.9 million—a sum surpassed only by the Yankees—on 10 players during the international signing period. They landed Dominican shortstop Jharmidy DeJesus ($1 million), Venezuelan shortstop Gabriel Noriega ($800,000) and Dominican outfielder Efrain Nunez ($450,000) for six-figure bonuses.

Seattle continued to aggressively push its prospects through the system, regardless of age. Their top five affiliates were younger than average for their leagues, so it shouldn't be surprising that none of those teams made the playoffs. In fact, not one finished with a winning record, though the Rookie-level Arizona League Mariners had the AZL's best record and won the league title.

1.  Jeff Clement, c   Born: Aug. 21, 1983B-T: L-RHt: 6-1Wt: 210
 Drafted: Southern California, 2005 (1st round)Signed by: Greg Whitworth
Jeff ClementBackground: The Twins selected Clement out of an Iowa high school in the 12th round of the 2002 draft, but he opted to attend Southern California instead. After the draft, Clement broke Drew Henson's national high school career home run record with 75. He added 46 more in three years with the Trojans, prompting the Mariners to take him with the third pick in the 2005 draft. Seattle signed him for $3.4 million, a club record for a drafted player. He missed seven weeks to injury early in 2006, but the Mariners still jumped Clement from Double-A San Antonio to Triple-A Tacoma upon his return. He wasn't ready. Clement caught his breath in 2007, turning in his best pro season, and clubbed two home runs in 16 at-bats during his big league debut in September. Clement headed to the Arizona Fall League in October, but missed the final two games after being sidelined with a sore left elbow that didn't require surgery.

Strengths: Clement offers rare above-average lefthanded power from the catcher position. He shortened his swing during his junior year at USC and the modification has carried over. He makes consistent, hard contact and uses the whole field. After a whirlwind 2006 season in which he jumped to Triple-A with just 172 pro at-bats under his belt, Clement worked to slow the game down in 2007. Where previously he would look to pull everything—often yanking inside pitches well foul—he now shows a mature approach, extending at-bats by working pitchers for his pitch or for walks. Clement gets such good backspin and carry on the ball that he can drive it out of any part of the park. A natural leader with work ethic to spare, he offers average arm strength to go with solid receiving, blocking and game-calling abilities behind the plate.

Weaknesses: While Clement's bat is unquestionably more advanced than his defense, he has worked extensively with roving catching instructor Roger Hansen on getting his feet to work with his arm on throws. Hansen is convinced that Clement will catch in the big leagues because he's dedicated to putting in the work to improve. Scouts outside the organization are less optimistic, though, believing Clement will always struggle to throw out runners because of below-average release times and accuracy. He has caught 29, 26 and 27 percent of basestealers in three pro seasons, figures that rate as slightly below-average. Typical for a catcher, he's a below-average runner.

The Future: Clement's bat is ready for the big leagues. He tended to run either hot or cold in Tacoma, but he had two things working against him: his home park and a timeshare arrangement with fellow catching prospect Rob Johnson. Cheney Park is one of the least favorable hitter's environments in the Pacific Coast League, and Clement slugged just .442 there, compared with .543 on the road. But with 31-year-old Kenji Johjima entrenched as the Mariners' catcher, Clement may have to work his way into the lineup at DH or by learning first base.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Tacoma (AAA) .275 .370 .497 455 76 125 35 3 20 80 61 88 0
Seattle .375 .474 .813 16 4 6 1 0 2 3 3 3 0
2.  Philippe Aumont, rhp   Born: Jan. 7, 1989B-T: R-RHt: 6-7Wt: 230
 Drafted: HS—Gatineau, Quebec, 2007 (1st round)Signed by: Wayne Norton
Philippe AumontBackground: The best Canadian prospect since Adam Loewen, Aumont caught the attention of scouting directors while pitching for travel teams—primarily the Canadian national team—because his Quebec high school didn't offer baseball. The Mariners made him the 11th overall choice in June and signed him for $1.9 million. Aumont, who is reluctant to discuss his parents or his past with the media, has lived with legal guardians since 2003.

Strengths: Aumont pitches at 92-94 mph with a plus-plus power sinker that bores in on righthanders and features the best movement in the system. He also throws a four-seam fastball that touches 98. The athletic 6-foot-7, 230-pounder gives batters an uncomfortable look with his low three-quarters arm slot. His hard slider has above-average potential at 80-82 mph.

Weaknesses: Aumont doesn't have the polish or experience of other first-round high school arms. Repeating his delivery and staying balanced would allow him to more consistently stay on top of his breaking ball. He doesn't have much of a changeup—he threw a splitter as an amateur—but he'll get plenty of practice in the Mariners' system.

The Future: Aumont profiles as a front-of-the-rotation starter because his ball is so lively and because he has such a knack for avoiding the barrel of the bat. He figures to begin his pro career with low Class A Wisconsin.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Did Not Play—Signed Late
3.  Chris Tillman, rhp   Born: April 15, 1988.B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-5. Wt: 195.
 Drafted: HS—Fountain Valley, Calif., 2006 (2nd round). Signed by: Tim Reynolds.
Chris TilmanBackground: The Mariners netted Tillman in the same 2006 draft haul that included Brandon Morrow and Tony Butler. Seattle bumped the 19-year-old Tillman to high Class A after just eight starts for Wisconsin. He struggled as he got used to more advanced California League competition and an unforgiving home park, but went 5-4, 4.75 with 89 strikeouts in 78 innings in the second half.

Strengths: The lanky Tillman is growing into his 6-foot-5 frame, and the leverage in his clean delivery gives extra life to an above-average 91-94 mph four-seam fastball. Tillman throws a true 11-to-5 curveball with tight rotation and late break that functions as his strikeout pitch. He has a loose arm and could grow into more strength and velocity. He shows aptitude for a changeup, but it's still his third pitch.

Weaknesses: Tillman didn't live up to expectations as a senior, leading some scouts to question his mental toughness. While he's around the strike zone, he sometimes struggles to throw his curveball for strikes because of its big break.

The Future: After a few rough Cal League starts, Tillman realized that his stuff plays anywhere and he began to attack hitters. He could mature into a mid-rotation starter, or more, and he'll pitch in Double-A at age 20.

2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Wisconsin (Lo A) 1 4 3.55 8 8 0 0 33 31 1 13 34 .238
High Desert (Hi A) 6 7 5.26 20 20 0 0 103 107 12 48 105 .266
4.  Carlos Triunfel, ss   Born: Feb. 27, 1990B-T: R-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 175
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2006 Signed by: Patrick Guerrero/Franklin Tavares/Bob Engle
Carlos TriunfelBackground: While other clubs offered him more money to sign as an amateur, Triunfel chose the Mariners because of his comfort with the organization and got $1.3 million. He broke his right thumb in May, after which the Mariners pushed the 17-year-old up a level to high Class A.

Strengths: Triunfel has the hand-eye coordination, contact ability and strength to sting the ball from gap to gap, and he makes rapid adjustments to the way pitchers work him. But unlike most young players, Triunfel is unfazed by mistakes and has the utmost confidence in his abilities. He had one of the strongest throwing arms in the two leagues he played in.

Weaknesses: The Mariners believe Triunfel will develop average power once he learns to turn on pitches, because his hands are quick and he backspins the ball so well. Triunfel is thick-legged and has below-average speed. He lacks classic shortstop actions and range, and almost certainly will have to find a new position.

The Future: Triunfel could find a home at third base, and he saw time at second base in instructional league in an effort to keep him in the middle of the field. His future position may depend on the needs of the big league club.

2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
AZL Mariners (R) .273 .231 .273 11 1 3 0 0 0 3 0 1 0
Wisconsin (Lo A) .309 .342 .388 152 18 47 8 2 0 14 5 23 4
High Desert (Hi A) .288 .333 .356 208 32 60 10 2 0 22 12 31 3
5.  Wladimir Balentien, of   Born: July 2, 1984B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 190
 Signed: Curacao, 2000 Signed by: Karel Williams
Wladimir BalentienBackground: Balentien arrived in the United States by hitting a Rookie-level Arizona League-record 16 home runs in 2004. He has done nothing but mash since, averaging 22 homers in each of the past four seasons. He showed improvement across the board in his first taste of Triple-A.

Strengths: Few players in the game can match Balentien's raw power to all fields. Though he still wildly chases pitches out of the strike zone, he did show increased pitch recognition and selectivity in first half of last season. He slashed his strikeout rate from one every 3.2 at-bats in 2006 to one every 4.5. He has average speed and good baserunning instincts. An average defender in right field, he charges the ball well and has a plus arm.

Weaknesses: Balentien spins off pitches a lot, though he can still drive the ball when he does. He has come under scrutiny for his lackadaisical play, and though he still has lapses, he showed more focus and maturity in 2007. Balentien missed a week in August with a left pinky injury and hit just .209/.281/.318 in 148 at-bats in the second half.

The Future: Balentien accomplished his goal of making more contact without sacrificing power, but faced with a crowded Seattle outfield picture, Balentien may have to bide his time in Tacoma.

2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Tacoma (AAA) .291 .362 .509 477 77 139 24 4 24 84 54 105 15
Seattle .667 .500   2.000 3 1 2 1 0 1 4 0 0 0
6.  Michael Saunders, of   Born: Nov. 19, 1986B-T: L-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 205
 Drafted: Tallahassee (Fla.) CC, D/F 2004 (11th round) Signed by: Phil Geisler
Mike SaundersBackground: A visa shortage in baseball would have made it impossible for Saunders to start his pro career in 2004, when the Mariners drafted him out of a British Columbia high school. So he headed to junior college before signing as a draft-and-follow for $237,500. Saunders showed NHL potential in hockey and also starred in basketball, lacrosse and soccer as an amateur.

Strengths: Saunders put to rest any doubts about his potential by reaching Double-A at age 20. A potential five-tool talent with as much athleticism as any Seattle farmhand, he generates good loft with a fluid lefthanded stroke. Still growing into his 6-foot-4 frame, he could mature into a 20-homer hitter with the above-average speed required to steal bases and play a plus center field. He has a strong arm.

Weaknesses: Experience is the missing ingredient to Saunders' game. His instincts for stealing bases, playing defense and working pitchers are still unrefined. Though his patience is encouraging for a young player, he piles up too many strikeouts.

The Future: While added bulk probably would help Saunders hit for more power, it might detract from his speed, making a future move to right field possible. Regardless, he'll get the chance to master Double-A in 2008.

2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
High Desert (Hi A) .299 .392 .473 431 91 129 25 4 14 77 60 116 27
West Tenn (AA) .288 .373 .442 52 8 15 1 2 1 7 7 20 2
7.  Juan Ramirez, rhp   Born: Aug. 16, 1988 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 175
 Signed: Nicaragua, 2005 Signed by: Luis Molina/Nemesio Porras
Juan RamirezBackground: With just 65 innings in the Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League under his belt, Ramirez made his U.S. debut in the short-season Northwest League at age 18. He had his share of rough outings and struggled with his command, but he also had one of the league's best arms. Ramirez finished second in the NWL in opponent average (.211) and fourth in strikeouts per nine innings (8.7).

Strengths: Ramirez has a prototypical pitcher's body and compares favorably with former Mariners prospect Rafael Soriano for his build and his delivery. He has a loose, easy arm and the ball jumps out of his hand from a three-quarters arm slot. His plus four-seam fastball ranges from 91-95 mph and sits at 93 with life and occasional armside run. Batters simply don't look comfortable facing him, nor do they get good swings on his fastball.

Weaknesses: Ramirez will rush his delivery and miss up in the zone, which leads to walks. His breaking ball is a work in progress, but he'll flash tight spin on a 75 mph curveball. He has feel for a changeup but it needs refinement. At present, he has below-average command of all three of his pitches.

The Future: Ramirez could break camp with low Class A Wisconsin. With improved command, he would have front-of-the-rotation stuff. If not, he'd profile as power reliever.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Everett (SS) 3 7 4.30 15 15 0 0 75 61 3 43 73 .211
8.  Mark Lowe, rhp   Born: June 7, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 190
 Drafted: Texas-Arlington, 2004 (5th round) Signed by: Mark Lummus
Mark LoweBackground: Lowe took off after a move to the bullpen in 2006, making the trek from high Class A to the majors. His breakthrough season was cut short that August with what was believed to be elbow tendinitis. Doctors instead found that he had no cartilage in the joint and had to perform a drastic, unprecedented microfracture operation in an effort to regenerate it.

Strengths: Lowe's stuff jumped a grade as a reliever. His fastball went from 89-93 mph to a consistent 94-96 with quality life. His hard slider had late, quick break and chewed up righthanders. He also had a changeup for lefties, and all three of his pitches were plus at times. His command and control also improved in short stints when he could cut loose.

Weaknesses: Limited to just 13 innings last year, Lowe couldn't pitch on consecutive days and threw only bullpens in instructional league. Team doctors told the Mariners that Lowe will be under no restrictions in spring training, so that's when they'll get a better idea if his stuff will come back.

The Future: If Lowe is healthy, he'll be an asset as a late-inning reliever, possibly filling Brandon Morrow's role if he moves to the rotation as planned.

2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Everett (SS) 0 0 0.00 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .000
West Tenn (AA) 0 0 3.38 3 1 0 0 3 2 0 2 1 .222
Tacoma (AAA) 0 0 5.68 7 3 0 0 6 12 1 3 5 .387
Seattle 0 0 6.75 4 0 0 0 3 2 1 3 3 .200
9.  Ryan Rowland-Smith, lhp   Born: Jan. 26, 1983 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-3 Wt: 205
 Signed: Australia, 2000 Signed by: Barry Holland
Ryan Rowland-SmithBackground: The Twins took Rowland-Smith in the major league Rule 5 draft at the 2004 Winter Meetings but returned him the following spring. He has worked predominantly as a reliever in his seven years in the system, but the Mariners want him to start in 2008, and they sent him to the Venezuelan League to prepare.

Strengths: With a fastball that reaches 93-94 mph and three other pitches, Rowland-Smith never looked like a typical lefty specialist. He relied on his slider as a reliever, and the pitch is a tick above-average, but he's more comfortable with throwing his average curveball and deceptive changeup. He's a physical pitcher who offers power stuff from the left side and has a plan on the mound.

Weaknesses: Rowland-Smith never has started more than 17 games or pitched more than 122 innings in a season, leading to questions about how he'll adapt to the rigors of his new role. Despite his size, he doesn't get a lot of downward plane on his fastball, and his curve can be a little big and early at times. His lack of a knockout pitch limits his upside.

The Future: Even with a good spring, Rowland-Smith won't have an easy time cracking the big league rotation, because Seattle has three other lefty candidates in Jarrod Washburn, Horacio Ramirez and Ryan Feierabend.

2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Tacoma (AAA) 3 4 3.67 25 0 0 1 42 35 2 22 50 .226
Seattle 1 0 3.96 26 0 0 0 39 39 4 15 42 .269
10.  Matt Tuiasosopo, 3b   Born: May 10, 1986 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 210
 Drafted: HS—Woodinville, Wash., 2004 (3rd round) Signed by: Phil Geisler
Matt TuiasasopoBackground: Tuiasosopo looked like he was on a football path, like his father Manu and brother Marques (who both played in the NFL), when he accepted a scholarship to play quarterback at Washington. He changed course when the Mariners took him with their top pick in the 2004 draft and signed him for $2.29 million.

Strengths: The Mariners rave about Tuiasosopo's makeup, noting that he never lost focus despite near constant struggling. He got off to fast start with West Tenn in 2007 and ran with it, showing above-average bat speed and solid pitch recognition and plate coverage. His power is strictly gap to gap now, but he has the strength and athleticism to drive the ball once he learns to identify his pitch. A converted shortstop, Tuiasosopo offers soft hands, arm strength and agility at third base. He has good speed for his size.

Weaknesses: Tuiasosopo still uses an inside-out swing and takes most balls the other way, cutting into his power potential. He started to turn on inside pitches in the second half and in the Arizona Fall League. Tuiasosopo's stroke is long and he has a high leg kick that throws his timing off.

The Future: Even four years into his pro career, Tuiasosopo remains raw. He has no standout tool, but if his bat develops as the Mariners expect, he could be a solid big league regular.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
West Tenn (AA) .260 .371 .404 446 74 116 27 5 9 57 76 113 4

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Photo Credits:
John Williamson (Clement)
Bill Mitchell (Aumont, Triunfel, Ramirez, Tuiasosopo)
David Stoner (Tillman)
Larry Goren (Saunders)