Seattle Mariners: Top 10 Prospects: 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, 2009.

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Year one of general manager Jack Zduriencik's tenure with the Mariners registered as a major success. The big league team won 85 times, improving its showing from 2008 by 24 games, while benefiting from a new focus on defense and starting pitching, of the lefthanded variety.

Formerly scouting director for the Brewers, Zduriencik assumed control of the Mariners in October 2008 and made his first significant move two months later when he shipped former all-star J.J. Putz and two other players to the Mets in a three-team, 12-player deal. The transaction netted Franklin Gutierrez, who had a career year both at the plate and in center field, three other big leaguers and three prospects.

The prospects included first baseman Mike Carp, who made his big league debut during the 2009 season, and outfielder Ezequiel Carrera, who won the Double-A Southern League batting title.

Furthering their search for pitching and defense, the Mariners snagged Ian Snell and Jack Wilson during the Pirates' fire sale last July. The deal cost the organization several early-round draft picks made by former GM Bill Bavasi and scouting director Bob Fontaine, including Jeff Clement, the third overall choice in 2005.

Seattle buttressed its prospect depth with summer trades of Yuniesky Betancourt to the Royals and Jarrod Washburn to the Tigers. The swaps netted power righthander Danny Cortes and young lefties Luke French (who made seven uneven starts for the big league clubs and lost his prospect eligibility), Maurico Robles and Derrick Saito.

The club remained active in the offseason, making four significant deals, two of which involved young players. In December, they parted with righthanders Phillippe Aumont and J.C. Ramirez as well as outfielder Tyson Gillies to land Phillies ace Cliff Lee. A month later, Seattle shipped Brandon Morrow to the Blue Jays to acquire righthander Brandon League and outfielder Johermyn Chavez.

As special assistant to the GM Tony Blengino helped identify acquisition targets through performance analysis, new scouting director Tom McNamara helped stock the system with talent through a productive draft. Both came to Seattle from Milwaukee with Zduriencik.

McNamara and his scouting department used the No. 2 overall pick in the draft on Dustin Ackley, the best pure hitter available.

The sweet-swinging lefty signed late but played in the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .315/.412/.425, and Seattle will try to move him from first base to center field or second base. With two other picks among the top 33 (compensation for losing free agent Raul Ibanez to the Phillies), Seattle continued to stress defensive chops by taking shortstop Nick Franklin and catcher Steve Baron, two talented prep players from Florida.

Between the draft, the continued international effort—headlined in 2009 by the signing of slugging Dominican outfielder Guillermo Pimentel for $2 million—and trade acquisitions, the new regime breathed life into a farm system that Baseball America ranked 24th among baseball's 30 organizations entering the season.

Down on the farm, high Class A High Desert went 83-57 and lost in the California League finals to San Jose. The Mavericks scored more runs than any minor league team and finished second in homers (to Seattle's Triple-A Tacoma affiliate). Third baseman Alex Liddi led the minors in hitting at .345, while outfielder Jamie McOwen hit safely in a league-record 45 straight games, a string no minor leaguer has surpassed in more than half a century.

1.  Dustin Ackley, of/1b   Born: Feb. 26, 1988B-T: L-RHt: 6-1Wt: 185
 Drafted: North Carolina, 2009 (1st round)Signed by: Rob Mummau
Bill MitchellBackground: Undrafted out of high school because he had a balky elbow and had faced low-level prep competition, Ackley starred for three seasons at North Carolina. Baseball America's 2007 Freshman of the Year, he led the Tar Heels to College World Series appearances in all three of his years, making the all-tournament team each time and setting the CWS record with 28 hits in 15 games. In NCAA postseason play, he batted 55-for-134 (.410) over 31 games, finishing in the midst of a 22-game hitting streak. Ackley finished as North Carolina's all-time leader for average (.412), hits (346), runs (227) and total bases (544). He cracked 22 homers in 2009 after combining to hit 17 during his first two seasons, and earned first-team All-America honors as well as the nod as Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year. Selected second overall by Seattle, Ackley signed a five-year major league contract at the Aug. 17 deadline, a deal that included a $6 million bonus and a $7.5 million guarantee. Dustin's father John spent seven seasons as a catcher in the Red Sox system, topping out in Triple-A.

Strengths: Ask any scout about Ackley and he'll focus immediately on his pure lefthanded stroke and his awe-inspiring feel for hitting. He combines all the necessary ingredients to win batting titles in the big leagues, including supreme hand-eye coordination, bat speed and a balanced, all-fields approach. He recognizes pitches and barrels up those in the strike zone. Most evaluators predict average power for Ackley, whose wiry strength is concentrated in his hands and forearms. Though he's not an overly physical player, he can turn on inside fastballs and pull them for home runs, and he can launch bombs to center field during batting practice. In games, however, he focuses on hitting the ball up the middle and to the opposite field, projecting as more of a gap-to-gap hitter. Ackley is a strong athlete who grades as a 60 runner and flashes 70 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale. He gets out of the box quickly and down the line in a shade under four seconds. Under way, he appears to glide despite his short running stride, and he aggressively seeks to take the extra base.

Weaknesses: Ackley injured his throwing arm while pitching as a prep senior and had Tommy John surgery following his sophomore year at North Carolina, which precluded him from playing more than a handful of games in center field in 2009, as had been planned. He spent the vast majority of his time at first base, where he rated as a solid defender. His arm strength rates as below-average, and he has yet to prove he can handle any position but first base on a daily basis.

The Future: A unique talent, Ackley draws no natural comparisons. The Mariners haven't decided his future position. He played a bit of center field but mostly left in the Arizona Fall League, and Seattle planned to try him out at second base in January workouts. Wherever Ackley settles on the diamond, he should hit. He ought to reach Double-A West Tenn, at the very least, by the end of his first pro season.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Did not play—Signed Late
2.  Michael Saunders, of   Born: Nov. 19, 1986B-T: L-RHt: 6-4Wt: 210
 Drafted: Tallahassee (Fla.) CC D/F, 2004 (11th round)Signed by: Wayne Norton
Michael SaundersBackground: After recovering from arthro­scopic shoulder surgery in the offseason, Saunders joined Triple-A Tacoma in late April and  turned in his finest pro season. Seattle rewarded him with a callup in late July, and he faced lefties in five of his first six starts and Roy Halladay in the other. Not coincidentally, he got off to a 4-for-27 (.148) start.

Strengths: Saunders exhibits all five tools, scoring average marks across the board. He has quality bat speed and can pull the ball for power, though he didn't homer in 46 big league games. He can bunt for hits, controls the strike zone and hits offspeed pitches to left field, showing the ingredients necessary to hit for average. He runs well and has more than enough range and arm strength to handle a corner outfield post.

Weaknesses: Because he works deep counts, Saunders likely will continue to strike out at a healthy pace. The Mariners sat Saunders down for a stretch in September to address mechanical issues in his swing. Hitting coach Alan Cockrell helped him create more leverage and power in his stroke by incorporating his legs more efficiently. Gauging by how well Saunders hit in the Venezuelan League this winter, the lesson seemed to take.

The Future: Saunders' steady development underscores his aptitude and dedication to his craft. He should be the Mariners' regular left fielder for 2010 and beyond.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Tacoma (AAA) .310 .378 .544 248 58 77 15 2 13 32 25 48 6
Seattle .221 .258 .279 122 13 27 1 3 0 34 6 40 4
3.  Adam Moore, c   Born: May 8, 1984B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 220
 Drafted: Texas-Arlington, 2006 (6th round)Signed by: Mark Lummus
Adam MooreBackground: Considered more of a slugger coming out of college, Moore has significantly polished his defensive game, working with catching instructor Roger Hansen on improving his footwork and technique. That effort paid off when the Mariners traded Jeff Clement to the Pirates in July, clearly making Moore their catcher of the future. He got his first big league exposure in September.

Strengths: Moore has a balanced approach and compact, line-drive stroke, allowing him to make consistent contact and wait on offspeed pitches. He's strong and generates plus power for the catching position. Agile for his size, he has cleaned up his blocking and receiving to the point where he can now count them as assets. He has a plus arm and ranked second in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League by throwing out 31 percent of basestealers last year.

Weaknesses: Moore has no notable shortcomings, though like most catchers, he's a well below-average runner. Despite his minor league performance, he doesn't have premium bat speed.

The Future: With natural leadership skills, Moore possesses all the tools to catch regularly in the big leagues. He logged a career-high 113 games behind the plate last season and stands first in line on Seattle's big league depth chart for 2010.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
West Tenn (AA) .263 .371 .411 95 14 25 5 0 3 13 16 21 0
Tacoma (AAA) .294 .346 .429 340 41 100 19 0 9 43 26 51 1
Seattle .217 .250 .391 23 4 5 1 0 1 2 0 7 1
4.  Alex Liddi, 3b   Born: Aug. 14, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 176
 Signed: Italy, 2005Signed by: Wayne Norton/Mario Mazzotti
Alex LiddiBackground: The first Italian position player to play pro ball in the U.S., Liddi hit .291 in an encouraging 2006 pro debut but then limped through two years in the low Class A Midwest League as a teenager, batting .240/.306/.365 over 249 games. A promotion to a hitter's paradise in High Desert helped him unlock his potential. Liddi hit .345 to lead all minor leaguers and also won California League MVP honors. He participated in the World Baseball Classic in March and the Futures Game in July.

Strengths: Most evaluators agree that Liddi's huge 2009 season was no mirage. With strong wrists, he generates natural power to center and right-center, and he did a better job of pulling the ball for power. Though he remains tall and lanky, he's beginning to add muscle to his frame. He has a feel for hitting, with his smooth stroke and solid plate coverage. His pitch selectivity improved in the second half, coinciding with a toe tap he added to his stance. He rates as a strong defender at third base, featuring soft hands and above-average arm strength.

Weaknesses: Liddi's athletic actions are not exactly graceful, and he already rates as a below-average runner. Some observers think his 2009 season was a product of his home ballpark, and he hit a more representative .308/.351/.498 with six homers on the road.

The Future: With his breakout performance, Liddi cleared a giant hurdle in 2009. How well he makes the transition to a less favorable hitting environment in the Double-A Southern League this year will reveal a lot about his future.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
High Desert (Hi A) .345 .411 .594 493 97 170 44 5 23 104 53 122 10
5.  Carlos Truinfel, ss/2b   Born: Feb. 27, 1990B-T: R-RHt: 5-11Wt: 205
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2006Signed by: Patrick Guerrero/Bob Engle
Carlos TruinfelBackground: Triunfel signed for $1.3 million in 2006 and moved rapidly to high Class A in his pro debut a year later. He missed most of last season after fracturing his fibula and tearing ankle ligaments in his left leg during a grisly baserunning collision.

Strengths: Triunfel combines pure bat speed, coordination and barrel awareness to profile as a plus hitter. His impatient approach cuts into his production, but on the flip side he can hit all types of pitches to all fields. His strong, accurate arm rates at least a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale and makes him a natural fit for the left side of the infield. His hands are soft enough to play shortstop.

Weaknesses: A bat wrap inhibits Triunfel's ability to turn on quality stuff on the inner half, placing an artificial limit on his average power potential. He's a below-average runner who lacks the quickness and range to be an everyday shortstop, and his arm would be wasted at second base. Triunfel's weight ballooned to nearly 220 pounds while he rehabbed his leg injuries, so the Mariners hired a nutritionist to formulate a strict diet for him. He got his weight back down while playing in the Arizona Fall League.

The Future: Triunfel still hasn't found a defensive home, though he would seem to profile best at third base. He'll head back to Double-A, where he'll continue to play multiple positions while learning to trust his surgically repaired ankle.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
West Tenn (AA) .231 .286 .269 26 2 6 1 0 0 4 1 2 0
AZL Mariners (R) .250 .250 .313 16 0 4 1 0 0 4 0 2 1
6.  Michael Pineda, rhp   Born: Jan. 18, 1989B-T: R-RHt: 6-5Wt: 250
 Drafted: Dominican Republic, 2005Signed by: Patrick Guerrero/Franklin Taveras
Michael PinedaBackground: Pineda toyed with Midwest League batters in 2008, ranking second in the circuit in ERA (1.95) and opponent average (.216). He picked up right where he left off last season, paying little heed to the tough pitching environments of High Desert and the California League as a whole. Mavericks Stadium didn't undermine him, but his elbow did, as lingering soreness sent him to the disabled list and limited him to 47 innings.

Strengths: Pineda's velocity returned when he pitched in the Cal League playoffs, with his fastball sitting at 91-92 mph and touching 94. It has good armside run, allowing him to tie up righthanders. He works the other side of the plate with an 86-91 mph cutter, and also shows advanced feel for a changeup. The natural movement he imparts on his pitches makes them difficult to square up.

Weaknesses: Pineda's elbow pain is cause for concern. He struggled to hold his velocity into the late innings last year.  He'll snap off a true slider in the high 70s on occasion, but when he overthrows, the pitch is more of a cut fastball with short break.

The Future: Having added 60-70 pounds to his frame since signing, Pineda has a strong build suited for the rotation—if his elbow holds up. Not many Mariners farmhands can match his upside, so the organization may opt to challenge Pineda with a ticket to Double-A in 2010.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
High Desert (Hi A) 4 2 2.84 10 8 0 0 44 29 3 6 48 .190
AZL Mariners (R) 0 0 0.00 2 2 0 0 3 2 0 0 4 .200
7.  Nick Franklin, ss   Born: March 2, 1991B-T: B-RHt: 6-1Wt: 175
 Drafted: HS—Altamonte Springs, Fla., 2009 (1st round)Signed by: Chuck Carlson
Nick FranklinBackground: Franklin helped Lake Brantley High win the Florida 6-A title in 2008, then bashed 10 homers to lead it back to the playoffs last spring. The 27th overall pick in the draft, he passed on an Auburn commitment to sign at the Aug. 17 deadline for $1.28 million. The Mariners received the choice from the Phillies as compensation for free agent Raul Ibanez, whose signing six years ago earlier cost Seattle its top pick in the 2004 draft.

Strengths: The Mariners drafted Franklin as high as they did because of his strong defensive tools, which include plus range to both sides as well as good actions and hands. He has the instincts to stick in the middle infield. A switch-hitter, he possesses a short, compact stroke from both sides, projecting as more of a singles and doubles hitter than a true home run threat. His lefthanded swing is more refined than his righthanded stroke thanks to repetition. He's a tick above-average runner.

Weaknesses: A thin, wiry athlete, Franklin turned around good velocity while using metal bats, but he might top out near 10 homers annually with wood. Evaluations of his arm strength vary from below-average to a tick above, and his three-quarters arm slot costs him crispness and accuracy. He has less range going into the hole than to his glove side.

The Future: The sum of Franklin's game is greater than the individual parts, and his gritty, enthusiastic style of play wins over most observers. The Mariners may opt to send Franklin to low Class A in order to find playing time for both him and fellow teenage shortstop Gabriel Noriega.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
AZL Mariners (R) .302 .318 .419 43 6 13 2 0 1 4 1 6 0
Everett (SS) .400 .429 .600 20 4 8 2 1 0 2 1 2 1
8.  Greg Halman, of   Born: Aug. 26, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 190
 Signed: Netherlands, 2004Signed by: Wayne Norton/Bob Engle/Peter Van Dalen
Greg HalmanBackground: Halman's showing in the World Baseball Classic—1-for-11 with nine strikeouts—was a harbinger of things to come. A year after finishing a homer shy of a 30-30 season and ranking No. 1 on this list, he endured long stretches void of productivity. He tied for the Southern League lead with 25 home runs, yet ranked last in average (.210), on-base percentage (.278), strikeouts (183) and K-BB ratio (6.3).

Strengths: Halman's game is centered on quick-twitch athleticism. It lends him explosive power at the plate and long, graceful strides in center field, where he's a solid defender with a strong arm. Plus-plus power is attainable with his whip-like bat speed and strong forearms. Lean and long-limbed, Halman draws physical comparisons to Andre Dawson and Alfonso Soriano. Though he's a tick above-average runner, he attempted just 16 steals in 2009 after swiping 31 in each of the previous two seasons.

Weaknesses: Eaten alive by a poor hitting approach, Halman was on target to set the SL's strikeout record before a bruised heel knocked him out for two weeks in June. He still wound up leading the minors with 191. In contrast to years past, he struggled to put pitches in play early in counts, then seemed incapable of recognizing and maintaining enough balance to hit breaking balls. The Mariners have stressed to him the need for consistency and improved self-discipline.

The Future: Halman stopped by instructional league to put in extra work. He remained upbeat after a tough year, perhaps because he's been there before. A year before his 2008 breakthrough, he bombed in the Midwest League. The ultimate boom or bust prospect, Halman will return to Double-A to begin 2010.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
West Tenn (AA) .210 .278 .420 457 64 96 17 2 25 72 29 183 9
AZL Mariners (R) .182 .308 .364 11 1 2 0 1 0 2 2 8 0
9.  Danny Cortes, rhp   Born: March 4, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-6Wt: 215
 Drafted: HS—Pomona, Calif., 2005 (7th round)Signed by: Dan Ontiveros (White Sox)
Daniel CortesBackground: Cortes was the Royals' top-ranked pitching prospect entering the 2009 season, but his stuff seemed flat when he repeated Double-A. An arrest for public urination in July was the final straw for Kansas City, which traded him for Yuniesky Betancourt in July. Cortes pitched much better after the trade, striking out a batter per inning and going 1-2, 2.70 in his final six starts.

Strengths: Cortes is a tall, physical righthander who boasts arm strength and intensity on the mound. At his best, he sits at 92-94 mph with late life down in the zone. He reels off a hard, sharp curveball for his finishing pitch, and also mixes in a loopy slider as a get-me-over offering. He has developed more feel for an average changeup.

Weaknesses: In order to remain a starter, Cortes' command will have to take a major step forward. He came to the Mariners with a max-effort delivery, and though he toned down his mechanics, he still handed out 5.7 walks per nine innings last season. His makeup is a concern, though he had no problems after the trade.

The Future: If he can't stay in the rotation, Cortes has the weapons to work as a late-inning reliever. After two full seasons in Double-A, he's ready for Triple-A.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
NW Arkansas (AA) 6 6 3.92 16 15 0 0 80 77 3 50 57 .258
West Tenn (AA) 1 5 4.94 10 10 0 0 55 51 4 35 55 .248
10.  Mario Martinez, 3b/1b   Born: Nov. 13, 1989B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 190
 Signed: Venezuela, 2006Signed by: Bob Engle/Emilio Carrasquel
Mario MartinezBackground: Signed as a shortstop for $600,000, Martinez outgrew the position after his 2007 pro debut. Since moving to third base, he has batted .313 in short-season ball the past two years. He paced the short-season Northwest League with 93 hits and ranked third with 20 doubles in 2009, though that came after he flunked out of the Midwest League during the first half.

Strengths: Martinez's level swing, all-fields approach and knack for contact should allow him to hit for average. He has cranked just five home runs in each of the past two seasons, but his natural strength and the bat speed to turn around high velocity portend at least average power. Martinez already has a big league body, with surprising agility for his size. He has good range to both sides, soft hands and a plus arm. He speaks fluent English, having learned it during his first instructional league, and he mentors and translates for Spanish-speaking teammates.

Weaknesses: While he has the tools to hit, Martinez looked terribly overmatched as a teenager in low Class A last spring. He needs to develop a much more refined approach at the plate. He's presently an average runner but figures to slow down as he matures.

The Future: Martinez has one of the highest ceilings in the system, and at age 20, he has plenty of time to make the necessary adjustments. He'll tackle the MWL again in 2010.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Clinton (Lo A) .214 .264 .314 229 20 49 13 2 2 24 11 51 1
Everett (SS) .308 .340 .437 302 45 93 20 5 3 33 11 59 4

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Photo Credits:

Bill Mitchell (Ackley)
Gaines DuVall (Nick Franklin)