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When Anderson began the 2000 season by dominating the Pacific Coast League in his first few starts, the clamor began for the Mariners to call him up Interstate 5. The Mariners resisted the urge, sticking with the preseason plan of letting the Space Needle spend at least a half-season in Triple-A. They were proven correct, as the consistency Anderson has searched for since signing remained out of his grasp. His struggles may have been for the best, as pressure waned to promote the young man who has been the No. 1 prospect in the organization since signing. Anderson was shelved late in the season by shoulder tendinitis, which cost him a chance to pitch for the U.S. Olympic team. He returned to make one start at the end of the year for Tacoma and showed his mid-90s fastball was back. When everything is clicking, Anderson works comfortably in the 94-97 mph range and mixes in a slider that should become a plus major league pitch. His changeup is an effective third pitch. He has the stuff to dominate, and many feel it's only a matter of time before he joins the elite group of legitimate No. 1 starters. Though he still walked more than a batter every two innings, his control took a step forward. He also has made tremendous strides off the field. The immaturity that dogged him earlier in his career is a footnote. Anderson has yet to string together the season the Mariners know he's capable of. He follows Randy Johnson-like performances with back-to-back disappointing outings. That's how a pitcher with his repertoire can own a 20-26 career record. He went through three different deliveries at Double-A New Haven in 1999 and still hasn't mastered the more compact motion that will take him to the next level. When his mechanics get off he loses velocity, falls behind hitters and throws too many pitches. He needs to consistently last longer than five or six innings. After taking the winter off, Anderson will go to spring training for the first time with a legitimate shot at a major league job. Seattle's big league depth will allow the club to be patient, but many in the organization are rooting for him to push his way into the rotation.
Known by the single-name moniker of Ichiro in his homeland, he is the seven-time defending batting champion in Japan's Pacific League. He attended spring training with the Mariners in 1999, and when the Orix Blue Wave made him available to major league teams, Seattle bid $13.125 million for the right to sign him, then inked him to a three-year, $22 million deal. Ichiro has been compared to Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn as a hitter because he rarely strikes out and uses the entire field. Some scouts believe he'll contend for the American League batting crown right away. He runs well and has the speed and ability to play center field or either of the corners. He owns an accurate arm that plays well, even in right field. The biggest knock on him has been a lack of power, but like Boggs and Gwynn, he may have the ability to hit for more power at the expense of some batting average. With Mike Cameron in center, the Mariners will play Ichiro in right field. He should provide spark from the leadoff spot the team has lacked for years.
When the Mariners finally pulled the trigger on the Ken Griffey deal with the Reds, Perez was viewed as a consolation prize because Gookie Dawkins and other Reds prospects couldn't be had. After leading the California League in slugging percentage in a breakout 2000 season, he looks more like the key to the deal. Perez is an exciting player who can do at least a little bit of everything. He's a strong-armed defender with good range at shortstop, and he can fly on the bases. What sets him apart is what he can do at the plate. He won't hit a lot of home runs, but he should continue to drive the ball to the gaps. At times Perez gets into a pull mode and fails to use the whole field. As with many young players, it's a matter of not concentrating consistently. He still hasn't figured out basestealing, as he was caught on 16 of his 44 attempts in 2000. Perez is still at least a year away from Seattle, but at his age there is no reason to rush him. He won't be another Alex Rodriguez, but he can be an all-star.
The Mariners were cautious with Pineiro coming into the 2000 season after he lost velocity off his fastball the previous year. He returned to Double-A and soon showed he was at full strength and ready to move on. He performed even better at Triple-A Tacoma, stringing together 19 consecutive shutout innings, and was summoned to Seattle in August. He picked up a win in his major league debut, holding the White Sox to two runs over six innings. Pineiro has good command of four pitches, with a fastball that touches above-average. His curveball has a chance to be a plus pitch, and he'll mix in a slider and changeup. He has always shown a good feel for pitching. Control, normally a strong suit, proved troublesome for him in Seattle. Perhaps it was an adjustment to working out of the bullpen, but he has to show he can throw strikes in the big leagues. Pineiro's role depends upon the makeup of the big league club. He's likely to continue breaking in as a reliever, though his future will be in the rotation. He might need more time in Triple-A.
Snelling signed as an underdeveloped 17-year-old, but he soon convinced the Mariners they had an Australian Lenny Dykstra on their hands. He was second in the Midwest League with a .342 average when he broke his hand and injured his wrist diving into an outfield wall. He wasn't at full strength when he came back at the end of the season and played on the Australian Olympic team, along with Class A Wisconsin teammate Craig Anderson. Snelling's hustle and all-out play have become his trademark. The Mariners love his attitude and knack for getting the fat part of the bat on the ball. For such an aggressive player, he knows when to be patient at the plate and has more walks than strikeouts as a pro. He runs well and is a solid defender in center field. There's nothing that stands out as a deficiency in Snelling's game. He may learn in time that curbing his aggression might keep him healthier and in the lineup. Snelling could develop into an exciting leadoff hitter, though his bat control would be valuable anywhere in the order. He should open 2001 at high Class A San Bernardino.
The son of former Mariners reliever Dave Heaverlo, Jeff grew up in Moses Lake, Wash., and played his college ball in Seattle. In his first full pro season, he won his first three starts and struck out 24 hitters in 16 innings. It got tougher after that, but Heaverlo held his own in a hitter's league. He owns the best slider in the organization and one of the best in the minors. Having grown up around the game, he knows how to pitch and mixes his breaking ball with two-seam and four-seam fastballs. His maturity allowed the Mariners to jump him to Tacoma when they needed a fill-in starter late in the season. Heaverlo's changeup is still in the developmental stages. He doesn't throw exceptionally hard and projects as a middle-of-the-rotation starter because of his velocity. Despite his gaudy record, Heaverlo was hardly dominant in the Cal League. In another organization he might move more quickly, but the Mariners are deep and he should spend most of the 2001 season at Double-A San Antonio.
Bloomquist spent nearly all of spring training in big league camp though he had never played above short-season ball. He led the Cal League with a .379 average when he was called to help out at Tacoma because the Mariners didn't want to disrupt Jermaine Clark in Double-A. If makeup were a tool, Bloomquist would grade out with a top-of-the-line 8 on the 2-to-8 scouting scale. He's a gamer who helps his club win by doing all the little things that don't show up in a box score. He puts the ball in play consistently and should hit for a solid average, though he'll never hit for power.. He played several positions in college and could handle any assignment in a pinch, but has settled nicely at second. Bloomquist is the type of player who won't bowl you over the first time you see him, but he compensates for any shortcomings in tools with hustle and smart play. The Tigers took Clark in the major league Rule 5 draft in December, but even if he returns to the organization Bloomquist has passed him in the Mariners' long-term plans. He'll likely be in Seattle by the end of the 2001 season.
The 11th player taken in the '99 draft, Christianson made hitting look easy in his pro debut. He met reality last year in Class A Wisconsin, however, and learned what most high school catchers do: The road to the big leagues contains a few potholes. He finished the season with shoulder tendinitis, which may have bothered him more than he let on. Christianson has tremendous power to all fields but needs to learn what to do with it. When he does, he could become a solid run producer. He enjoys being in charge behind the plate and has the tools to become an above-average defender. Playing defense seems to help his offense as well. He hit .271 while catching compared to just .167 as a DH. The Mariners still haven't seen the tremendous arm strength Christianson showed off in high school, though he did regain zip in his second season. His arm now projects as average. Seattle won't let its void at catcher dictate Christianson's schedule. He'll likely move a level at a time and arrive in Seattle late in 2003.
A converted outfielder, Soriano has come a long way in just two years on the mound. He got a late start on the 2000 season, missing the entire month of April with elbow tendinitis. He was consistently effective, never lasting less than five innings in a start and allowing more than three earned runs just twice. Soriano brings heat in the 95-96 mph range, which he complements with a hard slider and fledgling changeup. Arms like his don't come around often. He took to pitching from the start and is overpowering enough to be excused for most beginners mistakes. His slider is further along than his changeup, but both have a lot of room for improvement. Without a full arsenal and with his development time as a pitcher limited, Soriano may be better suited for a bullpen role. But there aren't many starters with his fastball and the Mariners have enough pitching, so they'll take their time with him for now. Soriano could develop into a dominant closer down the road.
Silvestre made the Midwest League all-star team in 1999, but it wasn’t quite enough to convince people. He made sure they took notice in 2000, leading the minor leagues in RBIs and earning California League MVP honors. The Mariners considered promoting him at midseason but wanted him to put two solid halves together—something he didn’t do the year before. Silvestre has excellent power and already has 106 minor league home runs. The Mariners believe he’ll hit for average as well. He shows a willingness to work hard on other aspects of his game, turning himself into an adequate defensive outfielder. Silvestre’s bat has to be his ticket. He’s a below-average runner with a below-average arm. He still strikes out a lot, but that’s a common tradeoff with young power hitters. His monster numbers were inflated by Lancaster’s home park, as he hit .340-20-86 at home and .265-10-51 on the road. Silvestre will report to Double-A in 2001. It will be interesting to see how he performs with expectations on him after a big season.
Fulse made his pro debut at 17, and the Mariners intended to keep him in extended spring training in 2000 until short-season Everett's season began. Those plans changed when an injury created a need at Lancaster. Fulse held his own as one of the youngest players in the California League for three weeks, then was reassigned to Wisconsin for the rest of the season. Fulse was converted from shortstop to center field upon signing in 1999. He already has taken well to the position and will develop into an above-average defender with an average arm. A switch-hitter, he doesn't offer much pop now, but the Mariners expect him to drive the ball as he fills out and end up with legitimate gap power. The key to his game, though, is his speed. He's one of the fastest runners in the organization and will steal his share of bases. Fulse should return to the California League in 2001.
Baek was regarded as one of the top high school prospects in Korea when the Mariners signed him for $1.3 million in 1998. His career got off to a slow start due to visa problems and a tender elbow, limiting him to eight games in his debut in 1999. Last year he was again troubled by tendinitis early in the season, but he tried to pitch through it without telling anyone he was hurt. After getting shut down and recovering, Baek saw his fastball climb back into the low 90s, and he mixed in his late-breaking slider with more regularity. He also throws a curve and changeup. He switched from a four-seam to a two-seam fastball last season, trading velocity for movement. Baek is likely to stay on the slow track through the system, both because he may need the extra development time and the organization has pitching depth.
Villilo was named the No. 2 prospect in the Rookie-level Arizona League in his U.S. debut last year. A switch-hitting third baseman, he has a chance to blossom into an exciting prospect. His bat stands out as his best tool. Villilo should continue to hit for average and develop decent power as he climbs the ladder. He runs well and has one of the strongest arms among infielders in the organization. Villilo is fluid at third base and can become an above-average defender. The game comes easy for him. He should make his full-season debut at Wisconsin this season.
The Mariners took some of the money they didn't spend on early-round picks last summer and signed Choo to a $1.335 million deal, outbidding several other teams for the Korean junior team star. At the time, Mariners vice president of scouting Roger Jongewaard said Choo, who attended the same high school as Cha Sueng Baek, was the best prospect the team had ever scouted in Asia. Choo led Korea to the World Junior Championship title in 2000, earning tournament MVP honors as a two-way hero. The lefthander reaches the mid-90s off the mound and picked up the win in the gold-medal game. That may have been his last pitching appearance, however, as the Mariners plan to keep him in center field. Though he's not especially big, Choo has tremendous power potential. He runs well and has an outstanding arm. He struggled somewhat in instructional league and has a tendency to pull that needs to be worked out. He's likely to open his career in the Rookie-level Arizona League in June.
A draft-and-follow signing in 1996, Fuentes ranked eighth on the Mariners prospect list two years ago, but his stock slipped after a disappointing 1999 season. He was off to another rough start at New Haven last year when a change in his mechanics turned everything around. Fuentes has always thrown with a funky delivery that helped him post a lot of strikeouts because it was deceptive. But he couldn't repeat it consistently and it may have contributed to shoulder problems in '99. In the middle of 2000 the Mariners got him to drop to a low three-quarters delivery. The results were dramatic. Over his last seven starts, Fuentes went 3-2, 2.39, allowing 31 hits and 12 walks in 49 innings while striking out 61. The run began with a complete-game two-hitter in which he struck out 14 and walked none. Fuentes throws an average fastball and slider and a plus changeup. If he can stay consistent with his new delivery, he'll force his way to Seattle before long.
Wooten was regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in the organization in his first few seasons, ranking in the top 10 in both 1997 and '98. But elbow trouble cost him nearly the entire 1998 season, and he didn't return to full strength from Tommy John surgery until last season. Wooten bounced back to make Baseball America's Minor League All-Star Team last year after posting more wins (17) than walks (15) and leading the Eastern League in ERA. He never did throw very hard, and since the surgery his fastball generally runs a tick below average, though it will reach average on occasion. He also throws a split-finger fastball, a slider and a changeup. Despite his outstanding 2000 campaign, Wooten has little chance at jumping to Seattle in 2001, with several pitchers in line ahead of him. He should start at Triple-A.
Hays was viewed as a difficult sign coming out of high school because of a commitment to Baylor. But the Mariners were in a gambling mood and spent their first pick on him. He came to terms at the end of the summer for $1.2 million. Hays has the kind of projectable pitcher's frame that scouts love, and the Mariners envision his fastball becoming above-average when he fills out. He already has shown an ability to spin his curveball effectively, and a solid changeup gives him a nice third pitch. All three could become plus pitches down the road. Hays has impressed the Mariners with the way he thinks the game.
Johnson led the Big South Conference with 139 strikeouts last spring while logging 123 innings for Coastal Carolina. His velocity tailed off later in the college season, which may be one reason he was available in the eighth round. He could turn out to be a steal. The Mariners started him out in the bullpen in consideration of the number of innings he had logged. Johnson eventually moved into Everett's rotation and finished with outstanding numbers. He throws an average to above-average fastball and slider, and his changeup has become a solid third pitch for him. Johnson has a bulldog makeup on the mound and the Mariners expect him to develop into a winner wherever he goes. He should open his first full season at Wisconsin.
Strong was drafted by the Pirates out of high school in 1996 and junior college in 1997, but chose instead to stay in school. As a senior he nearly led Nebraska to the College World Series last spring. After stealing 69 bases in two seasons for the Cornhuskers, Strong swiped 60 bags in his debut at Everett, immediately grabbing the title of fastest player in the organization. Strong has been clocked at 3.8 seconds to first base--outstanding for a righthanded hitter. He did more than steal bases, though. His .314 average was third in the Northwest League and he was co-MVP of the circuit. He recognizes that he's not a power hitter and keeps the ball on the ground, draws walks and makes contact. Defensively, he uses his speed well in center field, but his arm is below-average. It will be interesting to see how the Mariners move Strong and Fulse, both of whom could lay claim to the center-field job in San Bernardino in 2001.
Hodges' persistence might finally pay off. He spent seven seasons in the Royals organization, never getting an opportunity above Class A, before the Astros signed him and finally gave him a glimpse of life in the high minors. Not until the Mariners picked him up in a June 1999 trade for outfielder Matt Mieske did things open up for him. Hodges enjoyed easily his best season last year and was rewarded with a call to the big leagues. He throws a good sinking fastball with average velocity and complements it with a slider. He made seven starts in the Arizona Fall League, though the Mariners see him as a contender for a middle-relief job this spring.
Kaye has teased the Mariners with his stuff for six seasons, all but one out of the bullpen. A move to the rotation proved disastrous in 1997. He finally put everything together for a full season last year, striking out 11.7 hitters per nine innings and keeping his walks in check. He went 2-1, 6.57 in the Arizona Fall League, but his secondary numbers were solid. Kaye throws a sinking fastball and has gained command of his hard slider. The combination should be enough for him to succeed in relief. Kaye was added to the 40-man roster and likely is ticketed for Tacoma to open the season. It has taken him a while, but he should get to Seattle soon.
Meyer is already in his third organization after being part of the four-player package that moved Ken Griffey to Cincinnati. Meyer has the kind of stuff that makes it easy to see why teams keep trading for him. He throws a mid-90s fastball, a slider and a splitter, and all three can be average or better. He was limited to 26 games last year by tendinitis, but made up some lost innings over the winter in Venezuela, where he closed for the Lara Cardinals. Meyer could be in the mix for a bullpen job in Seattle in 2001.
Lopez led the Northwest League in strikeouts as a starter in 1999, but spent most of 2000 in the bullpen after opening the season in the rotation. His last start was a complete game, three-hit shutout. Lopez gave up runs in just five of his 34 relief outings and allowed just six hits in June and July combined. He owns a strong arm and throws a fastball, slider and changeup--all for strikes. Lopez has proven capable of succeeding in any role, but given the organization's depth in starting pitching, he's likely to remain in the bullpen.
Van Dusen pitched Riverside Community College to its first California state title in May. He continued his domination in the Arizona League, forcing a midseason promotion to Everett, where he continued his torrid strikeout pace. Van Dusen already is comfortable throwing strikes and knows what to do with his stuff. His fastball and slider are both average pitches. He uses the slider effectively against both lefthanders and righthanders. His changeup is coming along nicely as well, though it's definitely his third pitch. Van Dusen has grown two inches since finishing high school and the Mariners aren't sure he's done yet. He should continue his baseball growth this season at Wisconsin. He already has shown the aptitude to move quickly, so he might not be there long.
Walton has taken slow steps since the Mariners drafted him four years ago, spending two seasons in the Rookie-level Arizona League and two seasons at short-season Everett. He has a nice frame for a pitcher and throws hard for a lefthander, which explains the fascination and the patience. In his first three seasons he walked nearly a batter per inning. Walton finally showed control last summer, but was limited to 31 innings by biceps tendinitis that cost him the last month of the season. In addition to his hard fastball, Walton throws a curve and changeup. He still has a long road ahead of him, but with the paucity of hard-throwing lefthanders in the big leagues, Seattle will be patient.
Franklin went 20-0 in two junior college seasons before signing with the Mariners as a draft-and-follow in 1993. He moved quickly his first couple of years, finishing the '94 campaign at Triple-A Calgary. He slowed down considerably after that, however, and has four Triple-A seasons under his belt with just six major league appearances, all in 1999. He also has a gold medal, having pitched for Team USA in the Sydney Olympics last September. Franklin led the tournament with three wins and didn't allow a hit or run in 8 1/3 innings of relief. He doesn't throw especially hard, but what he lacks in velocity he makes up for with variety. His arsenal includes six pitches: two- and four-seam fastballs, splitter, slider, curveball and changeup. In Sydney, Franklin worked around 93 mph coming out of the bullpen, though his fastball tops out around 90 as a starter. This could be the year Franklin finally breaks through the Four-A ceiling and gets a shot as a long man in Seattle.
Nageotte made his pro debut last season after signing too late to play in 1999. He missed most of extended spring training for personal reasons, so the Arizona League was his first real test. He had little trouble adjusting, finishing third in ERA and fourth in strikeouts. He capped off the Mariners' title run there, striking out eight in seven innings of the championship game. His power curveball was one of the best in the league, and his fastball is a plus pitch as well. His changeup is developing but is still his third option. Nageotte's next step likely will be Wisconsin.
Matos has shown outstanding control since signing as a draft-and-follow in 1997. In 402 professional innings, he has walked just 106 batters. Since repeating the Arizona League in 1998 he has moved steadily up the ladder, succeeding without outstanding stuff. Matos is able to get by with a below-average fastball because he changes speeds well. He also throws both a slider and a curve. His arm action and delivery are quiet, befitting a player who's sneaking his way through the organization. The organization backlog of pitching could force him back to Double-A to open 2001.
Liriano, who ranked third in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League with a .367 average in 1999, won a batting title in his U.S. debut. He hit an even .400 in the Arizona League, where the Mariners ran away with the league title. After finishing the season with four games in Everett, he went to Asia for a minor league exhibition tour. Liriano is an aggressive hitter who puts the ball in play and doesn't strike out much. He has a solid stroke but doesn't project as a power hitter. Instead, he'll be the scrappy guy at the top of the lineup who gets on base and causes disruptions. He's not a burner, but Liriano utilizes his speed well. Defensively, he has work to do, though he has the tools to become an adequate second baseman.
Williams has been snakebit by injuries throughout his career. Two years ago he broke his hand and missed nearly two months. Then he lost half of 2000 to bone chips in his elbow. Drafted as a catcher, Williams moved to first base in 1999 to take advantage of his power stroke, which is one of the best in the organization. Though a little credit has to go to Lancaster's ballpark, there's no denying Williams can hit a baseball a long way. His numbers were down last season because of the elbow injury. Williams needs to make a few adjustments to take advantage of his power because it's really the only tool he has. He strikes out too frequently and is a below-average defender at first base. There may be room for improvement in his defense, but he needs to stay healthy long enough to get the repetitions he needs. If he hits enough he could be valuable as a first baseman/DH who could catch in a pinch.