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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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. He 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 can get out of control at the plate when he tries to do too much. Breaking balls still can give him trouble. 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.
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. 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. Johjima won't make an Ichiro-like impact, but he should fill a position at which Seattle has gotten little production for years.
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 nstincts have allowed him to rake everywhere he ever has played. He has solid gap power and average arm strength. Snelling hasn't had a healthy season since his 1999 pro debut, and he has played in more than 72 games in a season just once. His 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. If Snelling can stay healthy, he'd be an asset in the Seattle lineup. But that's such a big "if" that the Mariners can't count on him. They signed Carl Everett this offseason, meaning Snelling will have to start the year at Triple-A Tacoma.
The Mariners didn't have picks in the first two rounds of the 2004 draft, 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. Both his father Manu and brother Marques have played in the NFL. 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. 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 don't think he has the actions or quickness to stay there. He'll slow down as he fills out, eventually forcing a move to third base or the outfield. He hasn't reached much of his power potential yet, as he has an inside-out swing and has a ways to go with his pitch recognition. He'll continue to play shortstop in high Class A. Adrian Beltre's contract runs through 2009, buying Tuiasosopo plenty of time to develop.
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 is average. Cabrera can get too aggressive at the plate and needs to draw more walks to bat near the top of a lineup. Some scouts wonder how much offense he'll provide in the majors. His bat speed is just average, and he doesn't stand out in terms of on-base skills, power or basestealing ability. 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.
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 scuffled in Triple-A. He did play in his third straight Futures Game, homering off Toronto's Zach Jackson. Choo still offers an impressive array of tools. He 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, which isn't enough for a regular corner outfielder. He tried to hit for more power last season and got too pull-conscious. Choo will have to repeat Triple-A, though he's still just 23. In the fight to become Seattle's left fielder, Chris Snelling is a better hitter but Choo is a more well-rounded player.
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 is 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. Fruto has more than enough stuff to start, but 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 still has retained his athleticism. After breaking through in Double-A last year, he was shelled in Triple-A. 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 out quickly.
Nageotte has hit 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 reliever last year after missing most of the first three months with a strained forearm. 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 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 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 as a starter. 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 hurt.
He doesn't get 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 the Team USA at the World Cup, where he hit .273. 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 well for a catcher. His leadership skills are strong as well. Johnson has the frame and strength to hit homers, but never has shown the pop scouts 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. Johnson probably will open 2006 in Double-A, but Clement could be pushing for regular time there by midseason.
There aren't many minor league hitters who are more fun to watch than Balentien. He has as much raw power as just about anyone--more than top Mariners prospect Jeff Clement, though Clement's is more usable--and he never deviates from his John Daly approach: grip it and rip it. Predictably, this approach yields a lot of homers (68 in 371 pro games) and a lot more strikeouts (402, about one for every three at-bats). Whether it will work above high Class A remains to be seen. A member of the 2004 Dutch Olympic team, Balentien offers more than just power. He has a plus arm and average speed. He makes good reads and gets nice jumps on defense, so his primary position the last two years has been center field. In the long term, he's better suited for right. Balentien chases too many balls off the plate and tries to pull everything. He swings so hard that he routinely pulls his head out of proper hitting position. His effort and conditioning also have been questioned. Balentien has one of the highest ceilings in the system, and Seattle will monitor his progress closely this year at San Antonio.
The Mariners drafted Saunders out of a British Columbia high school in 2004, when baseball's visa shortage would have made it impossible for him to launch his pro career. He decided to attend Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College, then signed as a draft-and-follow for $237,500. During his impressive pro debut at short-season Everett, he drew comparisons to Shawn Green. Saunders has a sweet lefthanded swing with natural loft that gives him plus power potential. A good athlete, Saunders showed NHL potential as a teenager and also starred in basketball, lacrosse and soccer. He also was a legitimate prospect as a pitcher, showing an 88-91 mph fastball and a loose arm. Saunders has solid speed once he gets going and plus arm strength. He's adapting well to right field after being drafted as a third baseman. He struck out excessively in his debut, so he'll have to adjust in low Class A this year.
Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi did a nice job at the 2005 trade deadline, spinning spare parts for useful pitching--Bazardo, Mike Flannery, Jesse Foppert and Natanael Mateo-- and journeyman catchers Miguel Ojeda and Yorvit Torrealba. Foppert was an elite prospect before Tommy John surgery in 2003, while Bazardo is the best of the three minor league righties acquired. Bazardo touched 98 mph in the Marlins system, but pitched at 91-92 and peaked at 94 following the trade. He made progress with his slider and curveball, and his changeup remains his best secondary pitch. His numbers never have matched the quality of his stuff because he lacks consistent command. Bazardo doesn't struggle to throw strikes but must realize the importance of locating his pitches within the strike zone. His velocity dipped at the end of 2004 as well, so he'll need to get stronger. Unless he can develop a couple of truly reliable pitches to go with his heat, Bazardo faces a future in the bullpen. He'll stay in the rotation for now, probably opening the season in Double-A.
Valbuena ranked as the No. 6 prospect in the short-season Northwest League in 2005 and earned all-star honors after leading the league in homers and RBIs. The year before, he won the MVP award and batting title in the Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League. Of his predecessors as standout Everett middle infielders, he most closely resembles Ismael Castro, who hasn't enjoyed much success in full-season ball. Valbuena, who has been likened to Ray Durham, is an offensive second baseman. He has a quick bat and makes good contact, though Everett Memorial Stadium magnified his power (11 of his 12 homers last year came at home). Valbuena has average speed and defensive skills, and Seattle would like to see him improve with the glove. Though he topped NWL second basemen with a .978 fielding percentage, his hands are somewhat stiff. The Mariners trusted him enough to use him as an emergency fill-in in Triple-A last year, and they'll turn him loose in low Class A in 2006.
An eighth-round pick of the Brewers out of high school in 2002, Kahn didn't sign and attended Loyola Marymount. After winning West Coast Conference pitcher-of-the-year honors and pitching for Team USA in 2004, Kahn projected as a possible first-round pick for 2005. But he lost his fastball command and went just 5-6, 5.60 as a junior, sliding to the Mariners in the fifth round. After signing for $190,000, Kahn moved to the bullpen and took to his new role. His maximum-effort delivery is better suited for shorter stints, as is his aggressive nature. When he pitched in relief, his fastball sat at 95 mph and topped out at 98 with explosive life. It's the best fastball in the system. His second pitch is a 12-to-6 curveball that can get loopy at times. Kahn's curve needs more consistency, and he might be better off switching to a slider. Despite his initial success, he still has to improve his ability to throw both strikes and quality strikes. If he can locate two quality pitches, he'll have closer potential. Seattle could challenge Kahn by jumping him to high Class A in 2006.
Feierabend has arguably the best pickoff move in the minors. A year after leading Midwest League pitchers with 16 basestealers caught, he topped the California League with 18 in 2005--when he gave up only one successful steal. Feierabend also was the youngest starting pitcher in the Cal League and more than held his own as a teenager in high Class A. He finished strong for the second straight year, going 6-2, 2.55 in his final 13 starts. His fastball bumped up a notch to 89-90 mph, occasionally topping out at 92. He's still young and projectable, so it's possible he could add velocity. His curveball and circle changeup are average, and his whole repertoire plays up because of his command and ability to keep hitters off balance by mixing his pitches. Feierabend doesn't have a huge ceiling, but he has passed every test so far and could become a No. 4 starter. He'll advance to Double-A this season.
Primarily a starter in his first two pro seasons, Jimenez has advanced rapidly since becoming a full-time reliever in 2004, reaching Triple-A last year as a 20-year-old. He goes after hitters with three solid pitches: an 88-89 mph fastball that tops out at 92, a curveball that improved in 2005 and a changeup that ranks among the best in the system. He does a good job of throwing strikes and keeping the ball down. Jimenez doesn't have a dominant pitch, so he's probably not going to be a late-inning reliever, but with three effective offerings he could be a starter. The last time he was in that role, he made the Midwest League midseason all-star team in 2003 but saw his fastball drop to the mid-80s as he lost seven of his final nine starts. The Mariners are considering putting him back in the rotation after adding him to the 40-man roster, but Jimenez probably will relieve in Triple-A this year.
At this point, the low-90s fastball Livingston showed as a high school senior isn't going to come back. His velocity dropped to 86-87 mph before the 2001 draft, and it hasn't gotten any better. But Livingston hasn't needed to be able to throw the ball by hitters to thrive. In 2005, he led the Texas League in ERA and won six of his 10 Triple-A starts. He got knocked around in the Pacific Coast League at first, but allowed five runs over his final four starts and fanned a career-high 14 in his last outing. Seattle placed him on its 40-man roster during the offseason, though scouts remain skeptical as to whether Livingston can succeed in the majors. At times his fastball drops to 82-85 mph, though he enhances it with good sink and even better command. No pitcher in the system locates his pitches as well as Livingston. He also throws a curveball and a changeup, and he'll use a cutter against righthanders. None of his pitches is close to special, but he's a strike machine with tremendous feel for his craft. The Mariners love finesse lefties (see Jamie Moyer), but they've seen lefties such as Craig Anderson and Travis Blackley succeed in the lower minors and falter at the top. Livingston likely will open 2006 in Triple-A and should get his first big league opportunity later in the year.
Like Michael Saunders, Boucher is a Canadian who was caught in baseball's visa crunch in 2004. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference player of the year that spring, he signed for $90,000 but wasn't permitted to join a minor league team. He made his pro debut last year at age 23 and made up for lost time. Boucher led all Mariners farmhands with a .340 average and .434 on-base percentage, and he also swiped 26 bases in 30 attempts. He has the best speed in the system, rating a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His quickness is also an asset in center field. Boucher is a line-drive hitter who uses the whole field. He doesn't have much power and presently strikes out too much. But he understands getting on base and creating havoc is his game, and he does a good job drawing walks. His arm is below-average but playable in center. Boucher finished the year by playing for Team Canada in the World Cup and in an Olympic regional qualifying tournament. His next step is Double-A.
Bohn has had one of the system's better packages of tools since coming out of NCAA Division II Bellevue (Neb.) in 2002. He transferred to Bellevue after Iowa State shuttered its program in 2001. He finally delivered a performance to match his tools last year, reaching Triple-A (where he bashed three homers in the Pacific Coast League playoffs) and getting added to the 40-man roster. Bohn has hitting aptitude and a fair amount of power in his 6- foot-5, 205-pound frame. He has become more aggressive about looking for pitches to drive, and he'd hit more homers if he had more loft in his swing. Improved selectivity and contact also would help. He has good speed for his size and runs well once he gets going on the bases. Bohn's long strides allow him to cover enough ground to play center field, and his jumps and routes are strong as well. He's the system's best defensive outfielder and also has one of the best arms, making him a good fit in right field. He's 26 and may not become a regular in the majors, but he could have a career as a fourth outfielder with pop in the Gabe Kapler/Jayson Werth mold. Bohn will attend his first big league camp this spring.
Rivera was the MVP of the 2001 Excellence Games, an annual showcase for Puerto Rican draft prospects, boosting him into the second round that year. He continues to make a living off his work behind the plate, as managers have rated him his league's best defensive catcher for three years running. He led the Texas League by throwing out 54 percent of basestealers in 2005. Though he has a chunky body, he's agile and has good receiving skills. He spent a month in Seattle last year as a big league backup, and that's his long-term role, especially with Jeff Clement, Kenji Johjima and Rob Johnson in the organization. Rivera hasn't hit enough to project as a regular, though the Mariners note that they've rushed him. He has some raw power, but he owns a long swing, chases too many pitches and struggles against breaking balls. He's also a well-below-average runner. Though Rivera has just 115 at bats above Double-A and needs much more work on his hitting, he and Johjima are the only catchers on the big league roster. Rivera could open 2006 as Johjima's backup in Seattle.
While the Mariners were tracking Shin-Soo Choo at the 2000 World Junior Championship, they also found Blackley pitching for Australia. His younger brother Adam pitches in the Red Sox system. Travis moved rapidly after coming to the United States, leading the minors with 17 wins as a 20-year-old in Double-A in 2003. But little has gone right for him since. Promoted to Seattle the following July, he changed his approach and tried to pitch away from contact. He lost command and velocity and ended 2004 on the Tacoma disabled list with shoulder tendintis. Doctors subsequently discovered two small tears in his labrum. He missed all of the 2005 season after February surgery but should be ready for spring training. When he was going well, Blackley drew Mark Buehrle comparisons while keeping hitters off balance with a four-pitch mix. His changeup was his best pitch, and he also used an 87-92 mph fastball with natural cutting action, a curveball and a slider. His stuff didn't give him much margin for error, so if it doesn't come all the way back, he could be in trouble.
Cortez' season began with a 15-day suspension in April after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, but finished on a positive note when the Mariners added him to the 40-man roster. He has one of the better arms in the system, delivering 93-94 mph fastballs that peak at 97. He blew away Jeff Bagwell with his heat, striking him out during Bagwell's rehab assignment to Double-A in September. Cortez engenders mixed reviews from scouts, however. Those who like him rate his slider as an average to plus pitch and give him credit for maturing. His detractors don't think he stays on top of his slider enough and believe he still gets too emotional on the mound. He's fiddling with a splitter as a third pitch. Cortez still has a lot of effort to his delivery but has improved his control. After two years in San Antonio, he'll move up to Triple-A and could surface in the Seattle bullpen later in 2006.
Matt Tuiasosopo isn't the only blue-chip football recruit in the system. Wilson was headed to play linebacker for Oklahoma until the Mariners took him in the second round of the 2001 draft and offered him $900,000. They also signed outfielder Matt Ware to a two-sport deal as a 21st-rounder that year but eventually lost him to the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. Wilson didn't make it to a full-season league until 2005 but turned a corner in low Class A. Inserted in the middle of the Wisconsin lineup, he batted .280-11-51 over the final two months. He started seeing the ball better and laid off pitches he used to chase in the past. He stopped switch-hitting in 2004 and has fared better while batting solely righthanded. Strong and powerful, he's one of the best athletes in the system. Wilson can make plays in center field, though he profiles better in right. He has corrected what was once a horrible arm action and now has average arm strength. He still has holes in his swing, but Seattle is enthused about his progress and his leadership ability. He's headed for high Class A.
When Cleveland got both Cruceta and righthander Ricardo Rodriguez from the Dodgers while dumping Paul Shuey's contract in July 2002, it looked like a coup. But neither panned out with the Indians, who placed Cruceta on waivers last August. Short on quality arms, the Mariners claimed him. Cruceta has an 89-92 mph sinker that maxes out at 94. He added a splitter in 2004 and it quickly became his No. 2 pitch, ahead of his slider and rudimentary changeup. Cruceta still is learning to pitch, however. He throws strikes but his location isn't consistent. He tends to work high in the zone, leaving him vulnerable when he makes mistakes. Primarily a starter for most of his career, he worked as a swingman last year. Seattle will decide his role in spring training, and he'll begin the season in Triple-A. The Mariners took him off their 40-man roster, but he found no takers in the major league Rule 5 draft.
A veteran of international play with Taiwan, Chen started at third base in the 2004 Olympics and at second base in the 2005 World Cup. He batted .438 to earn all-tournament honors at the latter event. Hitting is what Chen does best. His strong wrists and his knack for centering the ball on the bat give him surprising pop for his size. He makes consistent line-drive contact, using the entire field with a solid approach. Nothing else about Chen's game really stands out, but he doesn't have a glaring weakness either. He has average speed and the instincts to steal an occasional base. His hands, range and arm are ordinary, which is enough to get the job done in the field. His best position is second base because he doesn't have the power for third. The main reason he has seen so much time at the hot corner is that he has been on teams with Asdrubal Cabrera, Oswaldo Navarro and Matt Tuiasosopo, who have shared second and shortstop. Chen is ticketed for high Class A in 2006 and will be the everyday second baseman if Cabrera and Navarro are promoted ahead of him.
If the Mariners could somehow combine Navarro and Yung-Chi Chen, they'd have a valuable middle infielder. While Chen's hitting is the most notable part of his otherwise ordinary game, Navarro stands out with his glove but has a questionable bat. He edges Asdrubal Cabrera as the best infield defender in the system. Navarro's middle-infield actions, instincts and hands all are above-average, and he has enough arm to make plays from shortstop. Like most of Seattle's infield prospects, he has seen time at a variety of positions to enhance his versatility. That's especially valuable to Navarro because most scouts project him as a utilityman. He has a smooth, flat swing that's tailored to contract, but at times he'll try to hit for power. While he surprised the Mariners with 29 doubles and nine homers in 2005, he needs to stop swinging for the fences and just worry about getting on base. He has some speed but isn't a huge basestealing threat. Navarro is an organization favorite, a gamer who plays with constant energy. Seattle added him to the 40-man roster this offseason and could skip him a level to Double-A, though his bat probably isn't ready for that jump.
The Mariners spent a first-round pick on Matt Thornton in 1998, but they may have found a more effective lefty reliever when they signed Sherrill out of the independent Northern League in mid-2003. Sherrill spent five years in three indy leagues before hooking on with Seattle, in part because his weight ballooned to 300 pounds at one point and scared clubs off. Sherrill isn't as imposing or as overpowering as Thornton, but he's very deceptive. Using a slow, stiff delivery, Sherrill short-arms the ball and releases it from behind his ear, making it difficult to pick up his pitches. His velocity was down a tick to 90-91 mph last season, still more than enough for a lefty. His best pitch is his slider, and he's death on lefthanders (.143 average against in Triple-A, .156 with Seattle). He'd be more effective against righthanders if he could refine a changeup, and until that happens, he'll be a lefty specialist. He competes hard and keeps the ball down. Sherrill spent the last two months of 2005 in the majors, pitching well until allowing four runs without recording an out against the A's in the final game. He'll have to battle for a big league job again in spring training.
LaHair had a classic breakout season in 2005. After batting .273 with eight homers over his first two pro seasons, he exploded to hit .310-22-113 and earn all-star honors in the California League. He also starred with Team USA, batting .361-3-8 in 10 games at the World Cup in September and .444-1-3 in three contests at an Olympic regional qualifying tournament in November. LaHair made a key adjustment to his swing mechanics, allowing him to get his front foot down quicker and improve his timing. Big and strong, he has legitimate lefthanded power. He doesn't lose any pop against southpaws, but his .218 average against them last year may mean his ceiling is as a platoon player. LaHair has played outfield in the past, but he has below-average speed and athleticism, prompting him to become a full-time first baseman. While he's not smooth around the bag, he did lead California League first basemen with a .996 fielding percentage. The Mariners aren't quite sure he's for real, and he'll have to prove himself again in Double-A after being left off the 40-man roster.
In his two years running Seattle's drafts, scouting director Bob Fontaine has used his 12th-round picks on college prospects who faced Tommy John surgery. He took Wichita State lefty Steve Uhlmansiek in 2004, and Uhlmansiek returned to the mound last June, days after the Mariners took Varvaro. Before he blew out his elbow in May, Varvaro projected as a second- or third-round pick. Signed for $500,000, he ranked sixth in NCAA Division I with 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings last spring. That was a better rate than that of his more heralded St. John's teammate, Craig Hansen (11.9), who went in the first round to the Red Sox. Some scouts said Varvaro was a more complete pitcher than Hansen, and he carved up college hitters with a 92-94 mph fastball and a hard curveball. Once he returns to health, Varvaro should have the best curveball in the system. He'll have to tone down his delivery and work on his changeup. The Mariners expect he'll be able to pitch by midseason.
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