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, 2007.

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Seattle Mariners

Bill Bavasi may have helped lay the foundation for a 2002 World Series championship as Angels general manager from 1994-99, but he has struggled in three years at the helm of the Mariners. Bavasi's Seattle clubs have averaged 70 wins per season, a steep drop from the 98 victories the M's averaged in four years under his predecessor, Pat Gillick.

Seattle has gone from 63 wins to 69 to 78 under Bavasi, but that incremental progress hasn't been enough to get out of last place. The Mariners were a tease in 2006. They were 41-39 and just two games back in the American League West on June 30, when they traded one of their top infield prospects, Asdrubal Cabrera, to the Indians for platoon DH Eduardo Perez.

By July 26, Seattle had dropped 13 of 20 games to fall into last place, albeit just three games out. The M's acquired the other half of a DH platoon from Cleveland, getting Ben Broussard for another of their best prospects, outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, plus lefthander Shawn Nottingham.

Those trades looked foolhardy less than a month later. On Aug. 19, the Mariners had slipped to 56-66 and 12 games back, ending any thought of contending. They actually reversed course, dealing the winningest pitcher in franchise history, Jamie Moyer, to the Phillies for Class A righthanders Andy Baldwin and Andrew Barb.

The highlight of Bavasi's tenure has been the major league ascendancy of homegrown prospects Yuniesky Betancourt, Felix Hernandez, Jose Lopez and J.J. Putz. But all of them except for Betancourt were signed by the previous front-office regime, as was their latest phenom, outfielder Adam Jones. Bavasi has tried to put his stamp on the club by signing big-ticket free agents Adrian Beltre ($64 million), Richie Sexson ($50 million) and Jarrod Washburn ($37.5 million), but they haven't lived up to their contracts or changed Seattle's fortunes.

Because the Mariners' major league record has been so poor, free-agent compensation rules have protected their recent first-round picks after they forfeited four of them and failed to sign a fifth from 2000-04. Seattle took catcher Jeff Clement with the No. 3 choice in 2005 and righthander Brandon Morrow at No. 5 in 2006, selections it hopes will help reverse a series of poor drafts that have undermined the farm system.

Most of the Mariners recent top prospects have been the results of their efforts on the international scouting market. Seattle placed a total of 21 players on 10 different World Baseball Classic provisional rosters, and its short-season Everett affiliate featured 13 foreigners from seven different nations. But spanning the globe hasn't been enough to prop up the system—or, by extension, the big league club.

More losing won't be tolerated. The day after he announced that Bavasi and manager Mike Hargrove would return in 2007, M's chairman and CEO Howard Lincoln said that he expected a dramatic turnaround. That will be difficult, considering Seattle finished next to last in the AL in scoring and won't bring back the two starters with the best ERAs (Moyer and free agent Gil Meche) on its eighth-ranked pitching staff.

"I don't want to leave any doubt in anybody's mind," Lincoln said. "Mike Hargrove and Bill Bavasi are on my hot seat, and I expect that they are going to work even harder than they're already working to produce the results the fans and, I think, the ownership group expects."

1. Adam Jones, of   Born: Aug. 1, 1985B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 200
 Drafted: HS--San Diego, 2003 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: Tim Reynolds
Adam JonesBackground: When Seattle took Jones with the 37th overall pick in 2003, it put an end to a dismal string of top draft choices that began with Ryan Anderson in 1997 and continued with Matt Thornton, Ryan Christianson, Sam Hays, Michael Garciaparra and unsigned John Mayberry Jr. Many teams preferred Jones as a pitcher after seeing him top out at 96 mph in high school, but he wanted to play every day and the Mariners granted his wish after signing him for $925,000. Jones has improved steadily as he has climbed the minor league ladder, and he has quickened his pace the last two seasons, opening 2005 at high Class A Inland Empire and reaching Seattle in mid-2006. Changing positions didn't slow him down. Jones spent his three years in pro ball at shortstop, but Yuniesky Betancourt seized that spot with the Mariners thanks to his defensive wizardry. Jones played two games in the outfield at the end of the 2005 season and worked on his center-field skills in the Arizona Fall League. In his first full year at the position, managers rated Jones the best defensive outfielder in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.

Strengths: Jones has drawn Mike Cameron comparisons since changing positions. He's an excellent athlete who has gotten both stronger and quicker since turning pro. He has increased his power output each year and still has room to add another 20 pounds to his frame. He's an above-average runner, albeit more of a long strider who's more effective taking an extra base rather than stealing one. The Mariners believe he can become a consistent 20-20 man like Cameron, and that might be a conservative estimate of Jones' power. He also has the tools to emulate Cameron and become a Gold Glove outfielder. Jones tracks balls very well, covers plenty of ground and has one of the strongest center-field arms in the game. He recorded five assists in 26 major league games. If needed Jones also could return to shortstop and become at least a solid-average defender there. He has shown a strong work ethic and the ability to adapt to tougher competition throughout his pro career.

Weaknesses: Jones sometimes can be too aggressive for his own good. Plate discipline never has been his strong suit, and the biggest difference between him and Cameron is that Cameron walks more frequently. Jones swings and misses enough that he may not hit for a high average and will pile up some strikeouts, though he's still young enough to make further adjustments. Breaking balls still give him trouble on occasion. Defensively, he can improve his routes, especially on balls hit over his heads. He made some errors early in 2006 because he made too many needless throws.

The Future: One of the youngest and best players from his 2003 draft class, Jones has the ability to become a much-needed building block for the Mariners. He could use a little more time to polish his game, so he probably will open 2007 at Triple-A Tacoma. When he returns to Seattle, he could face another position switch. The Mariners plan on playing Ichiro in center field, so Jones could move to right, where he has played briefly in the minors.
Tacoma (AAA).287.345.484380691091941662287813
2. Jeff Clement, c   Born: Aug. 21, 1983B-T: L-RHt: 6-2Wt: 215
 Drafted: Southern California, 2005 (1st round)Signed by: Greg Whitworth
Jeff ClementBackground: The third overall pick in the 2005 draft, Clement signed for a Mariners draft-record $3.4 million. His first full pro season was interrupted for seven weeks when he needed May operations to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee and remove a bone chip from his left elbow. When he returned, Seattle promoted him to Triple-A, where he predictably struggled.

Strengths: Power is Clement's calling card. He broke Drew Henson's national prep mark with 75 career homers, then hit 46 more in three years at Southern California, eight shy of Mark McGwire's school record. Clement shortened his swing in 2005 and should hit for a solid average as well. He has worked hard to improve as a catcher, and Seattle believes he'll become an average defender.

Weaknesses: Scouts from outside the organization have less faith in Clement's athletic and catching ability, and he definitely needs to get better behind the plate. He has an average arm but doesn't always get his feet set, costing him strength and accuracy. He threw out just 26 percent of basestealers in 2006. He's a below-average runner.

The Future: Clement concluded his year by hitting .189 in Hawaii Winter Baseball, but the Mariners expect him to rebound in 2007. They want to get his bat into their big league lineup as soon as possible, though he may have to break in as a DH with Kenji Johjima at catcher and Richie Sexson at first base. For now, Clement will stay behind the plate and open the season in Triple-A.
San Antonio (AA).288.386.5255971761210780
Tacoma (AAA).257.321.347245236310043216530
3. Brandon Morrow, rhp   Born: July 26, 1984B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 190
 Drafted: California, 2006 (1st round)Signed by: Stacey Petts
Brandon MorrowBackground: Morrow posted a 7.57 ERA over his first two seasons at California before emerging as a prime prospect in the Cape Cod League in 2005. He became the highest draft pick in school history, going fifth overall last June and signing for $2.45 million. A diabetic, he wears an insulin pump when not on the mound and monitors his blood sugar during games. His condition shouldn't limit him in baseball.

Strengths: Morrow is a true power pitcher. He has a mid-90s fastball that has reached 99 mph, and he maintains his velocity into the late innings. He backs up his heat with a mid-80s slider and a hard splitter. While some teams projected Morrow as a closer, the Mariners will try to make him a starter.

Weaknesses: To stay in the rotation, Morrow will need to improve his command and feel for pitching. He'll also have to refine his barely-used changeup, and while he works on that pitch Seattle will limit how many splitters he throws. Soreness in his forearm limited him to 16 innings in his pro debut.

The Future: Morrow returned to the mound in September and was lights out in a three-inning stint in high Class A. He may return to that level with the M's new High Desert affiliate or open 2007 in Double-A West Tenn. If his command and changeup improve quickly, he could reach the majors in 2008.
AZL Mariners (R)022.77740013100913.227
Inland Empire (Hi A)000.00110030004.000
4. Tony Butler, lhp   Born: Nov. 18, 1987B-T: L-L Ht: 6-7Wt: 205
 Drafted: HS--Oak Creek, Wis.Signed by: Joe Bohringer
Tony ButlerBackground: Butler spent much of the spring pitching at 86-87 mph, and the consensus was that his projection wasn't enough to warrant buying him away from an Arkansas scholarship. But area scout Joe Bohringer and Midwest supervisor Ken Madeja stayed on Butler, who suddenly jumped to 94-95 right before the draft. Seattle stole him with a third-round pick and signed him for $445,000.

Strengths: Butler maintained his newfound velocity in his debut, working at 89-92 mph and touching 95. His fastball has late life and he uses his 6-foot-7 frame to leverage it down in the strike zone. He also can buckle knees with his 76-80 mph curveball, which already ranks as the best in the system. He has feel for a changeup with late fade and deception. Mature and intelligent, he showed no fear while blowing away hitters at two levels.

Weaknesses: While Butler has made some adjustments to his mechanics, becoming more fluid and reducing the stress on his shoulder, he still can improve the timing with his leg drive. His changeup and control need more consistency, as he walked 34 batters in 56 pro innings.

The Future: Butler will open his first pro season in his native Wisconsin, and if he pitches like he did last summer he won't stay long in low Class A. He has a ceiling as a No. 2 starter.
AZL Mariners (R)202.5753001450925.116
Everett (SS)122.769900422322552.160
5. Ryan Feierabend, lhp   Born: Aug. 22, 1985 B-T: L-LHt: 6-3Wt: 190
 Drafted: HS--Grafton, OhioSigned by: Ken Madeja
Ryan FeierabendBackground: The youngest regular starting pitcher in the high Class A California and Double-A Texas leagues the last two seasons, Feierabend also became the youngest rookie pitcher in the majors when Seattle called him up in September. With Felix Hernandez, Feierabend and Adam Jones, the Mariners had three of the four youngest players in the big leagues in 2006.

Strengths: Feierabend has the best command in the system. His best pitch is his circle changeup, which he sets up with an 88-92 mph fastball that he can sink or cut. He's athletic and still has some projection remaining in his lanky frame. His pickoff move is as good as any in the game, as he has led each of his full-season leagues in basestealers caught and has permitted just three swipes in 33 attempts over the last two years.

Weaknesses: Feierabend has made strides with his breaking pitch but still seeks a truly reliable third pitch. He throws both a slider and a curveball, with the slider rating a slight edge. His delivery can get inconsistent, as he sometimes lands awkwardly on the side of his front foot.

The Future: His maturity, intelligence and work ethic have allowed Feierabend to move quickly. While he'll probably spend most of 2007 in Triple-A, the Mariners trust that he'll respond well if needed in the majors. He's not overpowering but should become a solid No. 4 starter.
San Antonio (AA)9124.282828001541561655127.267
6. Wladimir Balentien, of   Born: July 2, 1984B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 190
 Signed: Curacao, 2000Signed by: Karel Williams
Wladimir BalentienBackground: Balentien arrived in the United States by hitting a Rookie-level Arizona League-record 16 homers in 2004, and he has been crushing homers and striking out in bunches ever since. A member of the 2004 Dutch Olympic team, he won San Antonio's MVP award and the Texas League home run derby in 2006. He also smacked two doubles in the Futures Game.

Strengths: Few players in the game can match Balentien's raw power. Though his approach remains simplistic, he made progress in 2006 with his plate discipline (more than doubling his career high in walks) and using the opposite field. Far from a one-dimensional slugger, he has average speed and a plus arm that managers rated the best among TL outfielders. A right fielder who can play some center, he led the league with 17 outfield assists.

Weaknesses: Balentien's all-out, all-the-time approach limits his ability to make contact and hit for average. He'll chase any pitch he can reach, and he swings so hard that he'll pull his head off the ball. His stroke is long, he can be helpless against breaking stuff and he doesn't adjust when he falls behind in the count. He can get out of control in the field as well, topping TL outfielders with 11 errors.

The Future: Balentien's power is undeniable, but how usable it will be in the majors remains in question. The Mariners love his ceiling and will hope he can find a more balanced approach this year in Triple-A.
San Antonio (AA).230.337.4354447610223122827014014
7. Mark Lowe, rhp   Born: June 7, 1983B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 190
 Drafted: Texas-Arlington, 2004 (5th round)Signed by: Mark Lummus
Mark LoweBackground: Lowe's first full pro season was rough, as he posted a 5.47 ERA as a starter in low Class A in 2005. Moved to the bullpen in 2006, he was named Seattle's minor league pitcher of the year after needing just three months to go from high Class A to the majors.

Strengths: Lowe always projected as a reliever and his stuff jumped when he switched roles. His fastball went from 89-93 mph to a consistent 94-96 with quality life. His hard slider has late, quick break and chews up righthanders. He also has a changeup for lefties, and all three of his pitches are plus-plus at times. Lowe did a better job of throwing strikes when he didn't have to worry about doing anything more than cutting loose in short stints.

Weaknesses: Lowe missed three weeks in May with a shoulder impingement and was shut down in August with what was believed to be elbow tendinitis. Doctors planned to clean up his elbow with arthroscopy but found that he had no cartilage in the joint and had to perform a more drastic microfracture operation.

The Future: Lowe's outlook is uncertain. If the surgery doesn't regenerate enough cartilage, he'd have to try to pitch with bone rubbing on bone. If he regains his health and stuff, he'll be a future closer. There's no exact timetable for his return, though the Mariners hope he can get back on the mound in May.
Inland Empire (Hi A)101.8413202291401146.132
San Antonio (AA)022.161100417141314.233
8. Chris Tillman, rhp   Born: April 15, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-5Wt: 195
 Drafted: HS--Fountain Valley, Calif., 2006 (2nd round)Signed by: Tim Reynolds
Chris TillmanBackground: It's no coincidence that three of the Mariners' top four starting pitching prospects came from the 2006 draft. They targeted their biggest weakness by choosing Brandon Morrow, Tillman and Tony Butler with their first three picks. Tillman projected as an early first-rounder entering 2006, but an inconsistent senior season dropped him to the second round, where he signed for $680,000.

Strengths: Tillman owns two plus pitches in his lively 91-95 mph fastball and his slider. He generates velocity with little effort, as he has a loose arm and clean delivery, and he can add more once he fills out his lean 6-foot-5 frame. He showed some aptitude for throwing a changeup during instructional league.

Weaknesses: Tillman's velocity dipped in the spring when he fell in love with his splitter, and he'll need to recognize that his changeup is more vital to him as a starter than his split. He's not as mature as fellow high school draftee Butler, and some scouts questioned his mental toughness when Tillman struggled to live up to expectations as a senior.

The Future: Tillman will team with Butler at the front of Seattle's low Class A rotation in 2007. If they and Morrow develop as hoped, the Mariners will have landed three first-round talents at the top of their 2006 draft.
AZL Mariners (R)200.8250011190516.214
Everett (SS)137.785500202541529.325
9. Yung-Chi Chen, 2b   Born: July 13, 1983B-T: R-RHt: 5-11Wt: 170
 Signed: Taiwan, 2004Signed by: Jamey Storvick
Yung-Chi ChenBackground: A mainstay on Taiwanese national teams, Chen was the youngest member of his 2004 Olympic team and earned all-tournament honors at the 2005 World Cup and 2006 Intercontinental Cup. He led Taiwan with one homer and five RBIs at the inaugural World Baseball Classic. Chen also played in the Futures Game in 2006, when he batted a career-high .324.

Strengths: Chen has an innate feel for putting the barrel of the bat on the ball. He easily makes contact, uses the entire field and employs a buggy-whip swing to generate surprising gap power for his size. He has the ability to make adjustments from at-bat to at-bat, not just game to game. He has average speed and good baserunning instincts. He's reliable at second base, committing just eight errors in 100 games in 2006, including none in 35 Double-A contests.

Weaknesses: At best, Chen is an adequate defender. His range and arm are just ordinary and he's not aggressive on ground balls. His double-play pivot also needs improvement. Though he easily hits for average, the rest of his offensive game (power, on-base skills, speed) is just fair.

The Future: Chen has proven himself at every level so far, stalled only by a partially dislocated shoulder that cost him three weeks in late 2006. He should reach Triple-A at some point in 2007, though he's blocked by all-star Jose Lopez in Seattle.
AZL Mariners (R).27311131102100.385.545
San Antonio (AA).29514922449232218235.365.443
Inland Empire (Hi A).3422784995173548224021.388.478
10. Eric O'Flaherty, lhp   Born: Feb. 2, 1985B-T: L-LHt: 6-2Wt: 195
 Drafted: HS--Walla Walla, Wash., 2003 (6th round)Signed by: Phil Geisler
Eric O'FlahertyBackground: If O'Flaherty had followed through on his commitment to Oregon State, he could have been part of a College World Series championship in 2006. He has no regrets, however, as he jumped from high Class A to the majors during the year.

Strengths: When he's fresh, O'Flaherty throws a 90-94 mph fastball that darts all over the place and an 85-86 mph slider. He also can mix in an 87-89 mph cutter and a changeup to combat righthanders. His deceptive delivery makes it tough to pick up his pitches, and he has the moxie to pitch in late-inning situations.

Weaknesses: O'Flaherty needs to get stronger after wearing down by the time he joined the Mariners in August. He had less arm speed in the majors, dropping his fastball velocity to 87-90 mph and costing his slider some bite. While he has enough pitches to start, he struggled physically in that role and missed much of 2004 with back problems. He still needs to fine-tune his control and command.

The Future: If Jake Woods moves into the rotation, O'Flaherty could stick as the second lefty in Seattle's bullpen. Getting some more Triple-A seasoning wouldn't be bad for him either.
Inland Empire (Hi A)013.451600129311633.292
San Antonio (AA)221.1425007394501536.300
Tacoma (AAA)100.00200043014.214

Photo Credits:
Jones, Chen: Larry Goren
Clement, Balentien, Lowe: Steve Moore
Morrow, Tillman: Bill Mitchell
O'Flaherty: Andrew Woolley