• Chat Wrap:
Jim Callis took your Mariners questions
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, 2006.
Bavasi's second year on the job as Seattle general manager wasn't much
better than the first. After the Mariners bottomed out in 2004 by going
63-99—their first last-place finish since 1992 and worst record
since 1983—they didn't stand pat. Attempting to upgrade the American
League's worst offense, they committed $114 million to free agents Adrian
Beltre and Richie Sexson.
Sexson performed as expected in 2005, but Beltre was a disappointment
and so were the Mariners again. They scored one more run than they did
in 2004 and went 69-93, finishing in the cellar in consecutive years
for the first time ever. Seattle's record-tying 116-win season in 2001
seems much more distant than five years in the past.
There were a few silver linings, almost all of them provided by the
farm system. Ultrahyped Felix Hernandez lived up to his billing and
more, becoming one of the best pitchers in the major leagues the instant
he set foot in Seattle on Aug. 4. Ten of his 12 outings were quality
starts, and he finished 4-4, 2.67 with 77 strikeouts in 84 innings.
And he did all that at age 19.
After hitting .327 in the minors and .397 in a September 2004 callup,
Jeremy Reed batted a soft .254. But he proved he could more than handle
center field at Safeco Field, which had been in question, and his bat
should come around. Yuniesky Betancourt signed in January and reached
Seattle in July. Multiple veteran scouts called him the best defensive
shortstop they ever had seen, and he's the best the Mariners have had
since Omar Vizquel in the early 1990s.
The bad news, as if there already wasn't enough in Seattle, is that
the system can't offer any more immediate hope. A series of poor drafts
has caught up to the Mariners, who forfeited four first-round picks
and failed to sign another (John Mayberry Jr., who went to Stanford
and became the 19th overall choice in 2005) from 2000-04. Their decision
to take Michael Garciaparra 36th overall in 2001, after he barely played
as a high school senior because of a football knee injury, remains one
of the most puzzling choices in recent draft history. Signed for $2
million, Nomar's little brother has yet to rise above high Class A.
Since taking Alex Rodriguez with the No. 1 overall pick in 1993, the
Mariners have drafted and signed exactly two players who performed well
in the majors in 2005. Those two, Jason Varitek (first round, 1994)
and Brian Fuentes (25th round, 1995), were traded before they were big
league-ready and didn't blossom until after they left Seattle.
If not for their efforts on the international market, the Mariners'
situation would be far worse. They signed Hernandez out of Venezuela
and Betancourt after he defected from Cuba. Five of their top eight
prospects come from five different nations: catcher Kenji Johjima (Japan),
outfielder Chris Snelling (Australia), infielder Asdrubal Cabrera (Venezuela),
righthander Emiliano Fruto (Colombia) and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo (Korea).
Seattle hasn't made many upgrades this offseason. Signing Johjima
filled a hole, but Bavasi's next free-agent move was to get Carl Everett
for a club that already has several outfield options. Giving Jarrod
Washburn a four-year, $37.5 million contract may prove overly generous,
and adding Matt Lawton brought in another veteran outfielder on the
decline. A third-straight last-place finish looms as a distinct possibility.
August 21, 1983 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 215
Southern California, 2005 (1st round) Signed by:
Background: In 2002, Clement had a chance
to become the first Iowa high school player ever drafted in the first
round. But his lackluster performance at the Perfect Game predraft showcase
in mid-May dropped his stock enough that he wasn't going to give up on
his commitment to Southern California. Considered unsignable at that point,
he went in the 12th round to the Twins. After the draft, Clement finished
his prep career by leading Marshalltown to the Iowa state 4-A title and
breaking Drew Henson's national high school career home run record with
75. With the Trojans, he set a school freshman record with 21 homers and
hit 46 in three years, eight short of Mark McGwire's career mark. With
the No. 3 overall pick in June—their earliest choice in a decade—the
Mariners were zeroing in on Long Beach State shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
But the weekend before the draft, Seattle decided it already was deep
in shortstops, switched gears and opted for Clement. He held out until
late July before signing for $3.4 million, a club record for a drafted
player. It took him a couple of weeks to get his bat going, but he finished
the summer on a 25-for-68 (.368) tear that included five homers, then
played well in the Arizona Fall League.
Strengths: Clement has been known for his light-tower power
since he was chasing Henson's record in high school. Very few catchers
in baseball history can match his lefthanded pop, and he should be a
more complete hitter than the more recent candidates, such as Todd Hundley
and Mickey Tettleton. After batting just .298 and .293 in his first
two seasons at USC, Clement made some adjustments as a junior and improved
to .348. He now has a shorter and sounder swing, stays inside the ball
better and generates good backspin. He also tightened his strike zone
and covered more of the plate. He's content to use the entire field
because he realizes he doesn't have to pull pitches to smoke them out
of the park. His bat always has been ahead of his defense, but he made
significant strides behind the plate last year as well after working
with USC volunteer assistant Chad Kreuter, a former big leaguer who's
also the son-in-law of Trojans head coach Mike Gillespie. Clement has
put to rest any doubts that he can stay behind the plate. He has average
arm strength, his receiving and game-calling skills are fine and he
blocks balls well. He has the leadership ability desired of a catcher
and the work ethic to get better.
Weaknesses: Clement, who threw out 29 percent of basestealers
in his pro debut, can improve his throwing. He needs to refine his footwork
and transfer because his release gets long, costing him time and accuracy.
He won't be a Gold Glover, though he should be more than adequate defensively.
He's going to accumulate some strikeouts, but that's an acceptable tradeoff
for his power, and he'll also draw his share of walks. Typical for a
catcher, he's a below-average runner.
The Future: After signing Japanese all-star Kenji Johjima in
November, the Mariners don't need to rush Clement. But Clement, who
has a higher ceiling, could be ready toward the end of 2007. He'll probably
open the year at high Class A Inland Empire and could be pushing for
a promotion to Double-A San Antonio by midseason.
2005 Club (Class)
Wisconsin (Lo A)
August 1, 1985 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 180
HS—San Diego, 2003 (1st round supplemental) Signed
by: Joe Boehringer
Background: Many clubs wanted to make Jones
a pitcher after he hit 96 mph in high school, but the Mariners granted
his wish to play every day after signing him for $925,000 as a supplemental
first-round pick. Jones was developing nicely as a shortstop, but Yuniesky
Betancourt's fielding wizardry led to a change in plans. Seattle had Jones
play center field in the Arizona Fall League and will keep him there.
Though he's not a Gold Glover in center at this point, Jones reminded
the Mariners a lot of Mike Cameron when he changed positions.
Both are premium athletes with plus speed, solid power and strong
arms. Jones improved with the bat in 2005, showing more discipline
and consistency. His arm is still a cannon, and he could play
shortstop if needed.
Jones still has a lot to learn in center field, and his biggest
flaw is that he's shaky going back on flyballs over his head.
He can get out of control at the plate when he tries to do too
much. Breaking balls still can give him trouble.
The Future: Jones hit well in Double-A last year, but Seattle
may send him back there because he pressed at the plate while
adjusting to center field in the AFL. If Jeremy Reed doesn't start
hitting, Jones could make a play for his job in 2007.
2005 Club (Class)
Inland Empire (Hi A)
San Antonio (AA)
c Born: June 8, 1976
B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 200
Background: The first Japanese catcher to sign
with a U.S. team, Johjima agreed to a three-year, $16.5 million contract
in November. A perennial all-star and Gold Glover in Japan, he was the
Pacific League MVP in 2003 and batted .378 as Japan won a bronze medal
in the 2004 Olympics.
Johjima should be a solid all-around catcher in the States. He
controls the strike zone well and should produce for average as
well as gap power. Defensively, he's an agile receiver with good
catch-and-throw skills. He loves to run a pitching staff, and
he's learning English quickly, so the language barrier shouldn't
be a huge issue.
Having polished his game during nine seasons in the Japanese majors,
Johjima has no glaring flaws. He's a below-average runner, but
so are most catchers. He doesn't draw many walks because he puts
the ball in play so easily. He missed time in 2005 with shoulder
tendinitis and hairline fracture in his fibula, though neither
is a long-term concern.
The Future: Johjima won't make an Ichiro-like impact,
but he should fill a position at which Seattle has gotten little
production for years. Jeff Clement, the No. 3 overall pick in
2005, should be ready before Johjima's contract expires, which
will make for an interesting battle.
2005 Club (Class)
December 3, 1981 B-T: L-L Ht: 5-10 Wt: 205
Australia, 1999 Signed by: Barry Holland
Background: The story never changes with
Snelling. In 2005, he hit .370 to raise his career average to .323. He
also tore the meniscus in his left knee in spring training, costing him
the first two weeks of the year, and sprained the same knee shortly after
a big league callup in August, ending his season.
Former Seattle manager Lou Piniella wanted Snelling on his Opening
Day roster in 2001—when he was 19—and he has been
ready to hit in the majors for years. His quick hands, discerning
eye and tremendous instincts have allowed him to rake everywhere
he ever has played. He has solid gap power and average arm strength.
Snelling’s litany of injuries includes a broken left hand
and ligament damage in his left wrist (2000), a stress fracture
in his right ankle (2001), a broken right thumb and blown-out
left knee (2002), more problems with his left knee (2003) and
a deep bone bruise in his right wrist (2004). Knee surgeries have
left him with slightly below-average speed, relegating him to
an outfield corner, where his 15-20 homer power is fringy.
The Mariners signed Carl Everett and Matt Lawton this offseason,
meaning Snelling will have to start the year at Triple-A Tacoma.
2005 Club (Class)
May 10, 1986 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 210
HS—Woodinville, Wash., 2004 (3rd round) Signed
by: Phil Geisler
Background: The Mariners didn't have picks in
the first two rounds of the 2004, so they swung for the fences with their
third-rounder. They took Tuiasosopo and bought him out of a football scholarship
to play quarterback at Washington with a $2.29 million bonus, a record
for his round. Both his father Manu and brother Marques have played in
With his bat speed and strength, Tuiasosopo projects as a middle-of-the-order
run producer. He handled low Class A well as a teenager, earning
Midwest League all-star honors while making progress in all phases
of his game. A fine all-around athlete, he has good speed and
a strong arm. He also shows soft hands on defense.
Though Seattle has kept Tuiasosopo at shortstop so far, scouts
doubt he has the actions or quickness to stay there. He'll slow
down as he fills out, eventually resulting in a move to third
base or the outfield. He hasn't reached much of his power potential
yet thanks to his inside-out swing and poor pitch recognition.
He'll continue to play shortstop this year in high Class A. Adrian
Beltre's contract runs through 2009, buying Tuiasosopo plenty
of time to develop.
Venezuela, 2002 Signed by: Emilio Carrasquel
Background: An all-star shortstop in each of
his first two seasons, Cabrera ceded the position to Matt Tuiasosopo at
low Class A Wisconsin and dazzled at second base. Promoted to high Class
A when Adam Jones moved to Double-A, Cabrera returned to shortstop and
didn't miss a beat. He finished the season as Tacoma's starting shortstop
in the Pacific Coast League playoffs.
Managers rated Cabrera the best defensive second baseman in the
Midwest League, and some voted for him at shortstop. He's an acrobat
with plus range, arm strength, hands and instincts. Offensively,
he's a switch-hitter who makes contact and has some pop. His speed
Some scouts wonder how much offense Cabrera will provide in the
majors. His bat speed is just average, he’s often too aggressive
at the plate, and he doesn't stand out in terms of on-base skills,
power or basestealing ability.
The Future: Seattle wants to spread out its shortstop
prospects, so Cabrera could return to Triple-A at age 20. He'll
eventually have to beat out Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop or
Jose Lopez at second base to start for the Mariners.
Korea, 2000 Signed by: Jae Lee/Jim Colborn
Background: The MVP of the 2000 World Junior
Championships as a two-way star who dominated more as a pitcher, Choo
became a full-time outfielder after signing for $1.335 million. He breezed
through the minors until 2005, when he struggled in Triple-A. He did play
in his third straight Futures Game, homering off Toronto's Zach Jackson.
Choo consistently has hit for average, and the Mariners continue
to believe his strength will translate into 20-25 homers annually.
He has good speed and the instincts to steal bases. He led Pacific
Coast League outfielders with 24 assists, and managers rated his
arm as the league's best. A natural right fielder, he moved to
left in 2005 because of Ichiro's presence in Seattle.
Scouts from other organizations aren't as optimistic about Choo's
power. They think his inside-out swing and approach will limit
him to 10-15 homers per year, substandard for a regular corner
outfielder. He tried to hit for more power last season and got
too pull-conscious. Defensively, his routes and throwing accuracy
can get better.
The Future: Choo will have to repeat Triple-A. In the fight
to become Seattle's left fielder of the future, Chris Snelling
is a better hitter but Choo is a more dependable, well-rounded
Background: Signed for $250,000 out of Colombia,
Fruto was an enigma during his first four seasons in the system. His arm
was intriguing, but his lack of focus or command left his managers reluctant
to use him in close games. He matured in 2005, when managers rated him
the best relief prospect in the Double-A Texas League.
Fruto easily has the best stuff in a farm system hurting for pitching
prospects. His curveball and changeup are the best in the system.
Both are plus pitches, as his fastball, which jumped from the
low 90s to the mid-90s last year when he started using it more
often. His control improved as well. His slider gives him a fourth
pitch that's average.
While Fruto has more than enough stuff to start, the Mariners
have mostly used him in relief because of questions about his
maturity and poise. His weight has risen from 170 pounds to 240
since he signed, though he has retained his athleticism.
The Future: Seattle is toying with the idea of giving Fruto
another shot as a starter, a role he hasn't filled since early
2003. His upside is huge—and so is his potential to flame
HS—Brooklyn, Ohio, 1999 (5th round) Signed
by: Ken Madeja
Background: Nageotte has hit some speed bumps
since leading the minors in strikeouts in 2002 and topping the Texas League
in 2003. He got crushed in his 2004 major league debut and became a full-time
reliever last year after missing most of the first three months with a
Nageotte's stuff is still good, but it has taken a downturn in
the last two years. He used to own one of the nastiest sliders
in the game, but it has lost some velocity and sharpness and now
grades as a 65 rather than an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale.
His fastball has lost 2-3 mph, sitting at 91-92 mph as he has
tried to add sink and command.
Most pitchers see their stuff improve when they work shorter stints
out of the bullpen, so Nageotte's slippage raises a red flag.
He has had health issues crop up over the last three seasons,
including elbow tendinitis in 2003 and a lower-back strain in
2004. His control still needs to improve. He never came up with
a trustworthy changeup during his days as a starter.
The Future: Desperate for pitching help, Seattle could
move Nageotte back to the rotation. He has a chance to make the
Mariners out of spring training, but more Triple-A innings wouldn't
2005 Club (Class)
AZL Mariners (R)
July 22, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 200
Houston, 2004 (4th round) Signed by: Kyle Van
Background: He doesn't get nearly as much attention
as Jeff Clement and Kenji Johjima, but Johnson is a fine catching prospect
in his own right. Managers rated him the best defensive catcher in the
Midwest League in 2005, his first full pro season. He was the starting
backstop for Team USA at the World Cup in September, where he hit .273.
Strengths: Johnson makes consistent contact at the plate,
drilling line drives to both gaps. He's a quality receiver with
a strong arm, and he threw out 37 percent of basestealers last
year. He's a better athlete than Clement or Johjima and runs the
bases very well for a catcher. His leadership skills are strong
Johnson has the frame and strength to hit homers, but never has
shown the pop scouts have expected. His power is more evident
in batting practice than during games. He can get impatient at
the plate, and it's not a sure thing that he'll have enough bat
to be a quality regular.
The Future: Johnson probably will open 2006 in Double-A,
but Clement could be pushing for regular time there by midseason.
Both of them could be ready to challenge Johjima for playing time
in the next couple of years.
2005 Club (Class)
Wisconsin (Lo A)
Inland Empire (Hi A)
Johjima: Wayne Graczyk
Tuiasosopo: Bill Mitchell
Jones: Steve Moore
Clement: David Stoner