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Celebrating his 18th birthday the day before his first outing in 2004, Hernandez turned in the most dominating season for a player that age since Dwight Gooden was BA's Minor League Player of the Year in 1983. He allowed more than three earned runs in just four of his 25 starts, and he was named the top prospect in both the high Class A California and Double-A Texas leagues, just as he had been in the short-season Northwest League in 2003. He was the youngest player in both circuits, just as he had been in the NWL. Hernandez also worked a perfect inning at the Futures Game, highlighted by an effortless strikeout of the Mets' David Wright. His $710,000 bonus now looks like a huge bargain, as he has become unquestionably the best pitching prospect in baseball. It's difficult to project Hernandez' ceiling because his ability seems limitless. All three of his pitches are above average, and the Mariners won't even let him use his best offering. His fastball and curveball are the best in the system, each rating a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and some club officials give his 60 changeup top billing as well. Hernandez has true power stuff, as his fastball sits in the mid-90s and touches 97 mph while his curveball arrives in the mid-80s. He has yet to completely fill out, so his radar-gun readings could climb. His changeup was inconsistent early in the season, but he has refined it into a pitch that repeatedly throws hitters off balance. Word is that Hernandez' 88-90 mph slider puts his other pitches to shame, but Seattle is keeping it under wraps in the interest of his health. Considering his age, his command and savvy are as extraordinary as his stuff. He can blow the ball by hitters up in the strike zone but excels at keeping it down, as evidenced by his 2.3-1 groundball-flyball ratio in 2004. His mechanics are sound and his arm action is electric. Hernandez also takes care of the little things, such as holding baserunners and fielding his position. Despite all the hype swirling around him, he hasn't let it get to him. At times Hernandez will overthrow when he's in a jam, forgetting that each of his pitches is good enough to get outs. He needs to locate his fastball a little better to help set up his curveball and changeup. He may have to watch his weight as he gets older, though his work ethic isn't a concern. An injury is all that could derail Hernandez from stardom, and the Mariners are going to great lengths to keep him healthy. Besides taking away his slider, they've held him to strict pitch and inning counts and persuaded him to skip winter ball in his native Venezuela this offseason. They plan on him beginning 2005 in Triple-A, though he could force the issue of a big league promotion in spring training. Regardless of where he starts the year, Hernandez will get to Seattle and become the No. 1 starter soon enough.
Reed ranked as the White Sox' top prospect after leading the minors with a .373 average and .453 on-base percentage in 2003. When they traded Freddy Garcia, the Mariners insisted on Reed in a package that included Miguel Olivo and Mike Morse. He batted .397 in his big league debut. A natural line-drive hitter, Reed controls the strike zone and makes consistent sweet-spot contact. He runs well; his instincts make him a stolen-base threat. His September performance convinced Seattle he can handle center field. His arm is average. Scouts from other clubs aren't as sure he can stay in center--particularly in spacious Safeco Field. He needs to improve his jumps and routes on fly balls. Reed may max out at 15 homers a season, which would be below-average power if he has to move to left. Already having proven he's more qualified than Randy Winn, Reed should open 2005 as Seattle's center fielder. He should fit nicely behind Ichiro Suzuki in the No. 2 slot in the order.
Choo dominated the 2000 World Junior Championship as a pitcher, winning MVP honors. The Mariners signed him afterward for $1.335 million and made the two-way star a full-time outfielder. The organization's 2004 minor league player of the year, Choo played in his second Futures Game and set personal bests in average, homers and steals. Choo keeps his hands back and stays inside the ball, slashing liners to the opposite field. An above-average runner, he improved his aggressiveness and basestealing success in 2004. His plus-plus arm rated as the best among Texas League outfielders. He has the strength to hit 25 homers, but Choo's approach isn't conducive to power. He'll need to close his swing and do a better job of recognizing inside pitches. His outfield instincts are lacking and limit him to the corners. His throws could use more accuracy. Choo has moved one level at a time and should spend most of 2005 at Triple-A Tacoma. He has right-field tools, but figures to be Seattle's left fielder of the future unless Ichiro moves to center.
Nageotte cruised through the minors, leading the minors in strikeouts in 2002 and topping the Texas League in whiffs in 2003. But when he got to the majors last season, his stuff declined and he got throttled. He threw six shutout innings against the Astros for his lone victory. Nageotte has one of the nastiest sliders in baseball, as it has violent break and tops out at 87 mph. He also owns a power fastball, working from 92-97 mph. That dynamic combination has led several scouts to project him as a closer. In order to remain a starter, Nageotte will have to refine his changeup and throw it more often. He'll also have to throw more strikes with his fastball. He tried to be so fine with his pitches in Seattle that his heater dropped to 88-93 mph and his slider regressed to a slurve. He uses his slider too much, leading to concerns about his durability that weren't eased by elbow tendinitis in 2003 and a lower-back strain in 2004. Nageotte needs some time in Triple-A to straighten himself out. The Mariners will leave him in the rotation for now.
His father Manu and brother Marques played in the NFL, and Tuiasosopo seemed destined for football as a University of Washington quarterback recruit. The Mariners changed that by giving him a third-round record $2.29 million bonus. He homered in his first pro at-bat and was the top prospect in the Rookie-level Arizona League. Tuiasosopo has the swing and strength to be a middle-of-the-order run producer. Advanced for his age, he forced a promotion to short-season Everett and held his own. The best all-around athlete in the system, he has a strong arm and good speed. Seattle raves about his makeup as much as his tools. Though he made progress with his footwork and release, Tuiasosopo likely won't be able to stay at shortstop because his actions are too long. He'll have to tighten holes in his swing that older Northwest League pitchers were able to exploit. Tuiasosopo should be able to handle an assignment to low Class A Wisconsin, where he'd share shortstop with Oswaldo Navarro and see time at third base. His bat should play anywhere.
While the Mariners were zeroing in on Shin-Soo Choo at the 2000 World Junior Championship, they also discovered Blackley. He tied for the minor league lead with 17 wins in 2003, but like Nageotte had a difficult time handling his first big league trial in 2004. His brother Adam pitches in the Red Sox system. At his best, Blackley confuses hitters by mixing four pitches and draws comparisons to Mark Buehrle. His changeup is his best pitch, the key to his consistent success against righthanders. He also uses an 87-92 mph fastball with natural cutting action, a curveball and a slider. Blackley tried to pitch away from contact in the majors, with disastrous results. He lost his command and his fastball dropped to 82-85 mph, losing separation from his changeup. He needs to find a consistent breaking ball to get lefties out. He does get good spin on his curve, and it was the one pitch he got major league hitters to miss. He'll return to Tacoma to begin 2005. The Mariners believe he'll learn from his adversity.
Snelling never has hit less than .305 in six pro seasons, but he never has stayed healthy for a full season, playing just 96 games in 2002-03 because of left knee problems that required multiple surgeries. A deep bone bruise in his right wrist cost him all but 10 games in 2004. Snelling's explosive hands generate hard line drives to all fields. His instincts and drive allow him to maximize his tools. He has average arm strength and can handle either outfield corner. Given his injury history--which also includes breaks in his left hand, right thumb and right ankle, plus a strained left wrist--Snelling needs to tone down his aggressiveness. He hurt his right wrist because he was so eager to come back that he took too many swings. The knee operations have left him with slightly below-average speed. His power ceiling may be 15 homers, subpar for a corner outfielder. Snelling had a setback late in 2004, so the Mariners had him take the winter off. The goal is for him to be 100 percent for spring training and help the big league club after a tuneup in Triple-A.
Jones lit up radar guns with some 96s as a high school senior, leading many clubs to target him as a pitcher. The Mariners liked him both ways and granted his wish to play shortstop after signing him for $925,000 as their top pick in 2003. A premium athlete, Jones continues to draw gasps with his arm, rated the best among Midwest League infielders. He hit 11 homers as a teenager in low Class A, and there's more power coming. He has a sound swing and has been compared to Reggie Sanders, who also began his career as a shortstop. Jones runs well once under way and has solid range at shortstop. Jones needs to improve his grasp of the strike zone and his ability to work counts. He did show aptitude for making adjustments, overswinging less and using the whole field more later in the season. Though he could outgrow shortstop, he should retain his athleticism and at worst would become a center fielder. The Mariners like to work their shortstops at multiple positions, and Jones will get a taste of that in 2005. He's ready for high Class A.
As if they weren't loaded with shortstop prospects already, Seattle added to the strongest position in its system by signing Betancourt, a Cuban defector, in January. He received a four-year major league contract worth $3.65 million as general manager Bill Bavasi called him the equivalent of a first- or second-round pick. He starred at the 2000 World Junior Championship, where the Mariners first spotted Shin-Soo Choo and Travis Blackley, hitting .429 as Cuba won the bronze medal. He fled Cuba on a raft in 2003, eventually landing in Mexico, and didn't play in 2004. Agent Jaime Torres showcased Betancourt's skills by bringing him to several big league training sites last spring. He's a live-bodied athlete with all-around skills. Betancourt makes consistent hard contact, and while he doesn't have loft power, he's strong enough to drive his share of balls into the gaps. He has well above-average speed. Where Betancourt will wind up defensively is uncertain. He has the actions, feet and hands to play shortstop, as well as enough arm strength. But he spent his last three seasons in Cuba at second base because he was on the same Villa Clara club with longtime Cuban national team shortstop Eduardo Paret. The organization's logjam at the position makes it possible that Betancourt will move off shortstop anyway, and third base and the outfield also are possibilities. The Mariners will give him a long look at spring training and have no definite starter at shortstop, but they plan on sending Betancourt to Double-A San Antonio to begin his U.S. career.
After winning home run crowns in the Rookie-level Venezuelan and Arizona leagues the previous two years, Balentien continued to mash in 2004. Counting the California League playoffs and Olympics (he played for the Netherlands), he hit 20 home runs in 98 games. Balentien has extraordinary power to all fields and has the tools to be more than just a slugger. His speed and arm strength are average. His primary 2004 position was center field, though he's destined for right. Balentien tries to pull every pitch, so he has poor discipline, makes infrequent contact and struggles against breaking balls. He worries solely about his hitting, leading to poor jumps and lapses in the outfield. He needs to prepare to play hard every day, and he'll have to watch that his big build doesn't lose its flexibility. The Mariners have a number of outfielders established in the big leagues or ahead of Balentien on the system's depth chart, but none of them can approach his power. They hope he'll mature in all phases of the game at high Class A Inland Empire in 2005.
Cabrera was the Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League's all-star shortstop in his pro debut, so the Mariners skipped him past the Arizona League in 2004. He repeated as an all-star in the Northwest League, where at 18 he was the youngest regular in the league. Polished for his age, Cabrera's all-around game is similar to that of Orlando Cabrera (no relation). A switch-hitter with some gap power, he may have the most pure bat among the system's shortstop prospects. He's also one of its better athletes. An acrobatic defender, Cabrera covers plenty of ground and has reliable hands. He has average arm strength and better accuracy. Cabrera's lower half looks like it could get too thick for shortstop, but he's so smooth that Seattle doesn't foresee that he'll have to move to another position. He'll need to show more patience to fit into his projected No. 2 spot in the batting order. The Mariners are ready to jump Cabrera a level again, deeming him ready for high Class A in 2005. He'll split time at shortstop with Adam Jones after doing so with Oswaldo Navarro in 2004.
Strong is a better center fielder than Jeremy Reed or Randy Winn, but injuries have prevented him from showing what he can do the last two years. He tore his labrum and dislocated his left shoulder on a headfirst slide during spring training in 2003, then missed most of the final two months last season after sustaining a bone bruise on his right knee when he ran into an outfield wall. After minor surgery, he spent the winter at the Mariners' Arizona complex trying to strengthen the muscles around his knee. He should regain the speed that made him one of the fastest players in the minors. Strong understands his role is to get on base, and he plays it to the hilt, focusing on drawing walks and keeping the ball on the ground. Though he's never going to have much pop, he didn't get beat up by fastballs in on his hands as much in 2004 as he did in the past. Seattle considers him the best outfield defender in the system, but he still has room for improvement. While Strong's speed gives him tremendous range, he's much better going back on balls than making plays in front of him. His arm is below-average. The Mariners would prefer Strong to play regularly than sit on the big league bench, so he's probably headed back to Triple-A.
Former scout Charley Kerfeld, who resigned from the Mariners after the season, had been the club's point man in scouring independent leagues for talent. Sherrill spent five seasons in independent ball, mainly because his weight ballooned to as much as 300 pounds and scared big league clubs off, before Kerfeld signed him in July 2003. He was in Seattle nearly a year later and pitched well for the Mariners before wearing down in mid-September. Sherrill is in better shape but his body still isn't pretty, and his deliberate, stiff delivery isn't either. But he has uncanny command for someone with his build and mechanics, and he throws the ball from behind his ear, making it difficult for batters to pick up his pitches. When he's fresh, Sherrill is nasty on lefthanders with his low-90s fastball and good slider. He's OK but not nearly as effective against righthanders, and needs to improve his changeup to fare better against them. Counting winter ball, Sherrill had pitched nearly nonstop since signing with Seattle, and he just needed some time off. The Mariners are counting on him to be one of their primary lefty relievers in 2005.
Dobbs completed a successful comeback from a ruptured left Achilles tendon that ended his 2003 season after two games, becoming the first Mariner to homer in his initial big league at-bat. Seattle initially drafted him in the 53rd round out of high school in 1996 but didn't land him until he signed as a fifth-year senior before the 2001 draft. He has hit everywhere he has played. His mechanics, swing and plate coverage have made him a consistent .300 hitter, and he has enough power to hit 15-20 homers on an annual basis. He doesn't walk a lot, in part because he makes contact so easily. Dobbs looked better defensively in the majors than he had in the minors, but it's still unlikely that he can handle third base on an everyday basis. Though he has worked hard on playing the hot corner, his range is very fringy and his arm and hands are only adequate. He doesn't profile to have enough power to play first base, but his ability to play either infield corner is moot after Seattle signed free agents Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre in the offseason. Dobbs' best bet for regular playing time appears to be left field, though the Mariners also have a crowded outfield picture. Because he has spent just 21⁄2 months in Triple-A and has no opening in the majors, he's ticketed to return to Tacoma at the start of 2005.
Leone followed up a breakthrough 2003 season by scalding the ball for three months in Triple-A, which earned him Seattle's third-base job. He continued to hit for power in the majors until Matt Kinney broke two fingers on his left hand with a pitch in mid-August. Leone won't regain his starting role now that the Mariners have signed Adrian Beltre, but he still could help the club with his versatility. His hands, arm and actions have allowed him to play all four infield positions and both outfield corners in the minors. He has Gold Glove potential at third base, though he made erratic throws and lost confidence in his first taste of the majors. Believing in himself is a key for Leone, who struggled with self-doubt for much of his first four seasons. He's one of the better power hitters in the system, though he's a streaky hitter who doesn't always make consistent contact. His selectivity regressed last year, perhaps because he was trying to make an impression by hitting homers. Willie Bloomquist is an organization favorite, but Leone could offer Seattle more as a utilityman.
Seattle kicked off its aggressive pursuit of international talent by signing Baek, who played with Shin-Soo Choo at Pusan High in Korea, for $1.3 million in 1998. He missed most of 2001 and all of 2002 after Tommy John surgery. He hasn't totally regained the low-90s velocity he had before his injury, but he's never been about blowing hitters away. Baek succeed by locating his full repertoire, which includes an 88-92 mph two-seam fastball, a fourseamer, a curveball, a slider and a changeup. His best pitches are his changuep and his curveball. Though he has no difficulty throwing strikes, Baek must work more aggressively to get the ball in on hitters. Big leaguers quickly learned to lean out over the plate and look for pitches on the outer half against him, though he did spin eight shutout innings against the Rangers in his final outing of the season. He's not going to strike out a lot of batters, so he'll need his defense to make plays for him. Baek could crack the Opening Day rotation, though his chances are tied to Joel Pineiro's health and Ron Villone's role.
The Mariners like to collect lefthanders with a feel for pitching, and after Travis Blackley, Feierabend is their best. Seattle has compared him to a younger version of Blackley, and Feierabend already has more velocity. His fastball ranges from 86-92 mph, and he should have at least consistent average velocity once his lanky frame matures. His circle changeup and curveball are average pitches, but his stuff plays up because he's willing to throw any pitch in any count and has the command to locate them where he wants. Feierabend's feel and poise may be his most impressive attributes. Easily the Midwest League's youngest starting pitcher in 2004, he turned in 18 quality starts in 26 outings, including in each of his last six. He also shared Wisconsin's pitcher-of-the-year award with Oldham. Feierabend has a sharp pickoff move, leading the MWL with 16 basestealers caught. He didn't miss a lot of bats last season, though that can be attributed partly to his age. If his stuff develops like Seattle thinks it will, that won't be an issue. He'll pitch in high Class A this year.
Though he made the Midwest League midseason all-star team as an 18-year-old starter in 2003, Jimenez appeared tentative and faded badly down the stretch, losing seven of his final nine starts. The Mariners moved him to the bullpen last year and he seemed much more comfortable, having no trouble handling a high Class A hitter's league despite being its third-youngest regular pitcher. Jimenez owns the best changeup in the system, though he still needs to find a way to keep righthanders in check. His 87-91 mph fastball and his curveball are both solid pitches for him, and he pitches above his stuff because he's so driven. Because he owns three effective pitches, Seattle is debating on whether to return him to the rotation in 2005. Regardless of his role, he'll pitch in Double-A San Antonio.
The third player in the Freddy Garcia trade with the White Sox, Morse drilled 17 homers in 95 games last year after hitting 18 in his first four seasons combined. That breakthrough would be cause for more excitement if Morse had much of a chance to stay at shortstop and hadn't been suspended twice in 2004. Chicago suspended him shortly before the trade and Seattle suspended him again for the final three weeks of the season, reportedly for the use of over-the-counter banned substances. Morse has plenty of power, though his aggressiveness and lack of strike-zone discipline make it unlikely he'll ever hit for much of an average. He also has a strong arm and his hands are OK, but his lack of first-step quickness and range will limit his defensive options at the major league level. Third base and first base might be his only possibilities, and newcomers Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson are imposing roadblocks there. Morse likely will get more exposure at new positions in Triple-A this season.
The Devil Rays made Dorman the first player ever drafted from Western Baptist College, only to release him in January 2002. A former catcher who didn't become a full-time pitcher until 2000, he made decent progress in his first two years in the Seattle system before shooting forward last season. After pitching primarily in relief in 2003, he moved to the rotation in 2004 and quickly earned a promotion to Double-A, where he was San Antonio's pitcher of the year. If he hadn't fallen 31⁄3 innings shy of qualifying, he would have ranked second in the Texas League in strikeouts per nine innings (11.3) and opponent batting average (.231). The biggest reasons for Dorman's advancement last year were that his plus curveball and his mechanics became more consistent. He located his 87-93 mph fastball better as well. He still pitches up in the strike zone too often, which could be his undoing at higher levels. He's making progress with his slider and changeup, and he could be a No. 3 or 4 starter if they continue to develop. If not, he could be an effective reliever relying on his fastball and curve. For now, he'll remain in the rotation and move up to Triple-A.
Rivera received a couple of surprise promotions from high Class A at the end of last season. When the Mariners traded Triple-A catcher Pat Borders to the Twins in late August, they replaced Borders with Rivera for the final week of the Pacific Coast League season. Rivera returned to Inland Empire for the California League playoffs, then got summoned to Seattle in September. Rivera already could survive in the big leagues with his defensive prowess. Managers rated him the best defensive catcher in the Cal League, which he led by throwing out 41 percent of basestealers. Though he has a chunky body, he moves well behind the plate and has receiving skills to match his strong, accurate arm. How much Rivera will hit remains in question. His swing is long, he's too aggressive and he's still learning to deal with breaking balls and understand the strike zone. He's still young, though, so if he can make some adjustments he could hit .260 with gap power. He already shows raw power to all fields but hasn't tapped into it yet. He's a well below-average runner, not a shock for a catcher. After his roller-coaster ride to finish 2004, Rivera will catch in Double-A this year.
Livingston is an enigma, but a successful one at that. He had a low-90s fastball as a high school senior in 2001, but his velocity dropped to 86-87 mph before the draft and never has come back. Though he now pitches at 86-87 mph and rarely cracks 90 mph, Livingston nevertheless has been successful. He has been his team's pitcher of the year the last two years, setting a Wisconsin record with 15 victories in 2003 and leading the California League in innings pitched in 2004. He has the best command and might be the most competitive pitcher in the farm system, allowing him to win with marginal stuff. Livingston has good sink on his fastball, throws his curveball and changeup for strikes and has developed a cutter to use against righthanders. His willingness to use any pitch in any count helps him keep batters off balance. Livingston doesn't have much margin for error and whether he has enough stuff to succeed at upper levels remains to be seen, but he's an organization favorite and the Mariners want to find out. His next challenge will come in Double-A.
Chen's profiles best at second base, but he saw more time at third base last year, both with Everett and as the youngest player on the Taiwanese Olympic team. He started every game at the hot corner for fifth-place Taiwan at the Athens Games, and split time between second and third for Everett in deference to Asdrubal Cabrera and Oswaldo Navarro, who shuttled between shortstop and second. Chen won't have enough power to play third base in the majors, but he shows some offensive promise. He has strong wrists and a knack for centering the ball on the bat, and he can drill line drives to both gaps. He could use some more patience at the plate, however. Chen owns just average speed, but he has good instincts on the bases and had 25 steals in 28 attempts during his pro debut. He's a dependable defender who makes the routine play well, though he looked overmatched at shortstop, where he made four errors in 11 chances. Chen likely faces another year moving between second and third base, as he'll likely be on the same team with shortstop prospects Matt Tuiasosopo and Oswaldo Navarro in low Class A.
Of all the Mariners' middle-infield prospects, Navarro is the best defender. He played more second base than shortstop last year because he was teammates with Adam Jones at Wisconsin and Asdrubal Cabrera at Everett. Seattle likes to enhance the versatility of its infielders by using them at a variety of positions--Navarro also saw brief action at first and third base--but he definitely can play shortstop. He has the surest hands in the system, can make all the throws and covers a solid amount of ground. Though he led the Northwest League in doubles after a midseason demotion from low Class A, Navarro will have to get much stronger to succeed at the plate. He'll also need to tighten his strike zone and focus more on getting on base. He's an above-average runner, but not as quick as his stolen-base totals (21 in 26 attempts last year) might indicate. Navarro likely will have to share shortstop again in 2005, as both he and Matt Tuiasosopo are headed to low Class A.
The Mariners were excited to sign Huang to a six-figure bonus last April, even if he wasn't able to make his U.S. debut in 2004. He graduated in high school in June, but Seattle couldn't immediately get him a visa because the quota for foreign players for 2004 had been exceeded several weeks earlier. He failed to make the Taiwanese Olympic team, though he did begin college in order to get a deferment from mandatory military service. Huang has a strong frame and a quick, smooth arm action, allowing him to deliver low-90s fastballs and top out at 94 mph. He backs up his heater with a hard three-quarters breaking ball. He also throws a forkball and changeup, though those pitches are less polished. Huang should be able to come to the States in 2005, though the Mariners are cautious about where he'll start his career. As a teenager who'll have to adapt to an entirely new culture, it's likely he'll begin the season in extended spring training.
Thornton completed an arduous climb when he shut out the Padres for four innings in his big league debut. The biggest surprise in 1998's first round--Thornton had more success as a basketball player in college--he didn't win a game in college or as a pro until 2000. He had a breakout year in 2001, when he was the California League pitcher of the year and strikeout leader, only to succumb to Tommy John surgery in 2002. Thornton has regained the 94-96 mph fastball he had before his elbow injury, but his slider hasn't been as sharp. He never has trusted his changeup or had much command, so he'll probably settle in as a reliever in the majors. To make the Mariners this spring, he'll need to throw more strikes and make progress with his slider. He did well on both counts in Venezuela over the winter.
After leading Saddleback to a second-place finish in the 2003 California Community College playoffs, Johnson had options. The Phillies drafted him in the 18th round and offered him $275,000 to sign, and several top college programs wanted him as well. Johnson decided to attend Houston, where he disappointed scouts when he hit just seven homers. Thin on catchers, the Mariners focused on Johnson's hitting ability and catch-and-throw skills and signed him for $260,000. Because he strained his elbow, Johnson wasn't able to showcase his defense until instructional league. More athletic than most catchers, he moves well behind the plate, where his main need is to improve his throwing accuracy. Johnson will show plus power in batting practice, though he uses more of a line-drive, gap approach during games. Roving hitting instructor Glenn Adams helped him smooth out his swing, which was long and had a slow trigger. Johnson will begin 2005 in low Class A.
Part of a Kent State 2003 recruiting class that also included Ryan Feierabend, Nottingham ranked right with him as a prospect as a high school senior. But when Nottingham was dismissed from his team following his arrest for underage drinking and didn't pitch at all that spring, his draft stock plummeted. Seattle took Feierabend in the third round, Nottingham in the 13th. The biggest difference between Nottingham and the other finesse lefties on this list is that he's shorter and less projectable. He does have similar stuff, as his best pitch is his changeup and he can throw both a below-average fastball (85-89 mph) and a curveball for strikes. The Mariners showed what they thought of Nottingham's poise when they promoted him at age 19 from extended spring training to fill a bullpen emergency in Triple-A last June. He went from there to the Northwest League, which he led in wins, innings and strikeouts. He's ready for low Class A and with his moxie, he could push for a midseason promotion.
Lowe barely pitched in his first two years at Texas-Arlington, redshirting in 2003 to focus on his mechanics. He unveiled a low-90s sinker in the Northwoods League that summer, and that's the pitch that got him drafted in the fifth round and earned him a $170,000 bonus last June. Lowe can hit the mid-90s on occasion, but he's still primarily a work in progress. He never filled a more challenging role than setup man as an amateur, and had more success as a closer than as a starter in his pro debut. That's because he's still rounding out his repertoire. His hard slider is still inconsistent and takes a back seat to his changeup, which also needs refinement. He's also working on improving the location of his pitches because he doesn't always throw quality strikes. Lowe may project better as a reliever, but he does have the arm and stamina to handle starting. The Mariners will keep him in the rotation this year in low Class A.
Utah's top prospect for the 2003 draft, Jensen led Springville High to the state 4-A title and figured to go in the second to fourth round on talent alone. But his commitment to Brigham Young scared off clubs until the Mariners took him in the 19th round, and they were able to sign him late in the summer for third-round money. He didn't make his pro debut until 2004, when health issues unrelated to baseball partially sapped his stuff. He had shown a 90-94 mph fastball and a hard 12-6 curveball, but neither pitch was as crisp last summer. To Jensen's credit, he didn't miss a start and even when he got tired at the end of the summer, he never used his health as an excuse. He's fully recovered now and should be at full strength again in 2005. He has an athletic frame and throws with little effort. He's still young and raw, so he still has a ways to go with his changeup, command and consistency. How Jensen looks in spring training will determine whether he begins the year in low Class A or extended spring.
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