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When Seattle took Jones with the 37th overall pick in 2003, it put an end to a dismal string of top draft choices that began with Ryan Anderson in 1997. Many teams preferred Jones as a pitcher after seeing him top out at 96 mph in high school, but he wanted to play every day and the Mariners granted his wish after signing him for $925,000. Jones has improved steadily as he has climbed the minor league ladder, and he has quickened his pace the last two seasons, opening 2005 at high Class A Inland Empire and reaching Seattle in mid-2006. Changing positions didn't slow him down. Jones spent his three years in pro ball at shortstop, but Yuniesky Betancourt seized that spot with the Mariners thanks to his defensive wizardry. Jones played two games in the outfield at the end of the 2005 season and worked on his center-field skills in the Arizona Fall League. In his first full year at the position, managers rated Jones the best defensive outfielder in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Jones has drawn Mike Cameron comparisons since changing positions. He's an excellent athlete who has gotten both stronger and quicker since turning pro. He has increased his power output each year and still has room to add another 20 pounds to his frame. He's an above-average runner, a long strider who's more effective taking an extra base rather than stealing one. The Mariners believe he can become a consistent 20-20 man like Cameron, and that might be a conservative estimate of Jones' power. He also has the tools to emulate Cameron and become a Gold Glove outfielder. Jones tracks balls very well, covers plenty of ground and has one of the strongest center-field arms in the game. He recorded five assists in 26 major league games. If needed Jones also could return to shortstop and become at least a solid-average defender there. He has shown a strong work ethic and the ability to adapt to tougher competition throughout his pro career. Jones can be too aggressive for his own good. Plate discipline never has been his strong suit, and the biggest difference between him and Cameron is that Cameron walks more. Jones swings and misses enough that he may not hit for a high average and will pile up some strikeouts, though he's still young enough to make further adjustments. Breaking balls still give him trouble on occasion. Defensively, he can improve his routes, especially on balls hit over his heads. He made some errors early in 2006 due to too many needless throws. One of the youngest and best players from his 2003 draft class, Jones has the ability to become a much-needed building block for the Mariners. He could use a little more time to polish his game, so he probably will open 2007 at Triple-A Tacoma. When he returns to Seattle, he could face another position switch. The Mariners plan on playing Ichiro in center field, so Jones could move to right, where he has played briefly in the minors.
The third overall pick in the 2005 draft, Clement signed for a Mariners draft-record $3.4 million. His first full pro season was interrupted for seven weeks when he needed May operations to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee and remove a bone chip from his left elbow. When he returned, Seattle promoted him to Triple-A, where he predictably struggled. Power is Clement's calling card. He broke Drew Henson's national prep mark with 75 career homers, then hit 46 more in three years at Southern California, eight shy of Mark McGwire's school record. Clement shortened his swing in 2005 and should hit for a solid average as well. He has worked hard to improve as a catcher, and Seattle believes he'll become an average defender. Scouts from outside the organization have less faith in Clement's athletic and catching ability, and he definitely needs to get better behind the plate. He has an average arm but doesn't always get his feet set, costing him strength and accuracy. He threw out just 26 percent of basestealers in 2006. He's a below-average runner. Clement concluded his year by hitting .189 in Hawaii Winter Baseball, but the Mariners expect him to rebound in 2007. They want to get his bat into their big league lineup as soon as possible, though he may have to break in as a DH with Kenji Johjima at catcher and Richie Sexson at first base. For now, Clement will stay behind the plate and open the season in Triple-A.
Morrow posted a 7.57 ERA over his first two seasons at California before emerging as a prime prospect in the Cape Cod League in 2005. He became the highest draft pick in school history, going fifth overall last June and signing for $2.45 million. A diabetic, he wears an insulin pump when not on the mound and monitors his blood sugar during games. His condition shouldn't limit him in baseball. Morrow is a true power pitcher. He has a mid-90s fastball that has reached 99 mph, and he maintains his velocity into the late innings. He backs up his heat with a mid-80s slider and a hard splitter. While some teams projected Morrow as a closer, the Mariners will try to make him a starter. To stay in the rotation, Morrow will need to improve his command and feel for pitching. He'll also have to refine his barely-used changeup, and while he works on that pitch Seattle will limit how many splitters he throws. Soreness in his forearm limited him to 16 innings in his pro debut. Morrow returned to the mound in September and was lights out in a three-inning stint in high Class A. He may return to that level with the M's new High Desert affiliate or open 2007 in Double-A West Tenn. If his command and changeup improve quickly, he could reach the majors in 2008.
Butler spent much of the spring pitching at 86-87 mph, and the consensus was that his projection wasn't enough to warrant buying him away from an Arkansas scholarship. But area scout Joe Bohringer and Midwest supervisor Ken Madeja stayed on Butler, who suddenly jumped to 94-95 right before the draft. Seattle stole him with a third-round pick and signed him for $445,000. Butler maintained his newfound velocity in his debut, working at 89-92 mph and touching 95. His fastball has late life and he uses his 6-foot-7 frame to leverage it down in the strike zone. He also can buckle knees with his 76-80 mph curveball, which already ranks as the best in the system. He has feel for a changeup with late fade and deception. Mature and intelligent, he showed no fear while blowing away hitters at two levels. While Butler has made some adjustments to his mechanics, becoming more fluid and reducing the stress on his shoulder, he still can improve the timing with his leg drive. His changeup and control need more consistency, as he walked 34 batters in 56 pro innings. Butler will open his first pro season in his native Wisconsin, and if he pitches like he did last summer he won't stay long in low Class A. He has a ceiling as a No. 2 starter.
The youngest regular starting pitcher in the high Class A California and Double-A Texas leagues the last two seasons, Feierabend also became the youngest rookie pitcher in the majors when Seattle called him up in September. With Felix Hernandez, Feierabend and Adam Jones, the Mariners had three of the four youngest players in the big leagues in 2006. Feierabend has the best command in the system. His best pitch is his circle changeup, which he sets up with an 88-92 mph fastball that he can sink or cut. He's athletic and still has some projection remaining in his lanky frame. His pickoff move is as good as any in the game, as he has led each of his full-season leagues in basestealers caught and has permitted just three swipes in 33 attempts over the last two years. Feierabend has made strides with his breaking pitch but still seeks a truly reliable third pitch. He throws both a slider and a curveball, with the slider rating a slight edge. His delivery can get inconsistent, as he sometimes lands awkwardly on the side of his front foot. His maturity, intelligence and work ethic have allowed Feierabend to move quickly. While he'll probably spend most of 2007 in Triple-A, the Mariners trust that he'll respond well if needed in the majors. He's not overpowering but should become a solid No. 4 starter.
Balentien arrived in the United States by hitting a Rookie-level Arizona League-record 16 homers in 2004, and he has been crushing homers and striking out in bunches ever since. A member of the 2004 Dutch Olympic team, he won San Antonio's MVP award and the Texas League home run derby in 2006. He also smacked two doubles in the Futures Game. Few players in the game can match Balentien's raw power. Though his approach remains simplistic, he made progress in 2006 with his plate discipline (more than doubling his career high in walks) and using the opposite field. Far from a one-dimensional slugger, he has average speed and a plus arm that managers rated the best among TL outfielders. A right fielder who can play some center, he led the league with 17 outfield assists. Balentien's all-out, all-the-time approach limits his ability to make contact and hit for average. He'll chase any pitch he can reach, and he swings so hard that he'll pull his head off the ball. His stroke is long, he can be helpless against breaking stuff and he doesn't adjust when he falls behind in the count. He can get out of control in the field as well, topping TL outfielders with 11 errors. Balentien's power is undeniable, but how usable it will be in the majors remains in question. The Mariners love his ceiling and will hope he can find a more balanced approach this year in Triple-A.
Lowe's first full pro season was rough, as he posted a 5.47 ERA as a starter in low Class A in 2005. Moved to the bullpen in 2006, he was named Seattle's minor league pitcher of the year after needing just three months to go from high Class A to the majors. Lowe always projected as a reliever and his stuff jumped when he switched roles. His fastball went from 89-93 mph to a consistent 94-96 with quality life. His hard slider has late, quick break and chews up righthanders. He also has a changeup for lefties, and all three of his pitches are plus-plus at times. Lowe did a better job of throwing strikes when he didn't have to worry about doing anything more than cutting loose in short stints. Lowe missed three weeks in May with a shoulder impingement and was shut down in August with what was believed to be elbow tendinitis. Doctors planned to clean up his elbow with arthroscopy but found that he had no cartilage in the joint and had to perform a more drastic microfracture operation. Lowe's outlook is uncertain. If the surgery doesn't regenerate enough cartilage, he'd have to try to pitch with bone rubbing on bone. If he regains his health and stuff, he'll be a future closer. There's no exact timetable for his return, though the Mariners hope he can get back on the mound in May.
It's no coincidence that three of the Mariners' top four starting pitching prospects came from the 2006 draft. They targeted their biggest weakness by choosing Brandon Morrow, Tillman and Tony Butler with their first three picks. Tillman projected as an early first-rounder entering 2006, but an inconsistent senior season dropped him to the second round, where he signed for $680,000. Tillman owns two plus pitches in his lively 91-94 mph fastball and his slider. He generates velocity with little effort, as he has a loose arm and clean delivery, and he can add more once he fills out his lean 6-foot-5 frame. He showed some aptitude for throwing a changeup during instructional league. Tillman's velocity dipped in the spring when he fell in love with his splitter, and he'll need to recognize that his changeup is more vital to him as a starter than his split. He's not as mature as fellow high school draftee Butler, and some scouts questioned his mental toughness when Tillman struggled to live up to expectations as a senior. Tillman will team with Butler at the front of Seattle's low Class A rotation in 2007. If they and Morrow develop as hoped, the Mariners will have landed three first-round talents at the top of their 2006 draft.
A mainstay on Taiwanese national teams, Chen was the youngest member of his 2004 Olympic team and earned all-tournament honors at the 2005 World Cup and 2006 Intercontinental Cup. He led Taiwan with one homer and five RBIs at the inaugural World Baseball Classic. Chen also played in the Futures Game in 2006, when he batted a career-high .324. Chen has an innate feel for putting the barrel of the bat on the ball. He easily makes contact, uses the entire field and employs a buggy-whip swing to generate surprising gap power for his size. He has the ability to make adjustments from at-bat to at-bat, not just game to game. He has average speed and good baserunning instincts. He's reliable at second base, committing just eight errors in 100 games in 2006, including none in 35 Double-A contests. At best, Chen is an adequate defender. His range and arm are just ordinary and he's not aggressive on ground balls. His double-play pivot also needs improvement. Though he easily hits for average, the rest of his offensive game (power, on-base skills, speed) is just fair. Chen has proven himself at every level so far, stalled only by a partially dislocated shoulder that cost him three weeks in late 2006. He should reach Triple-A at some point in 2007, though he's blocked by all-star Jose Lopez in Seattle.
If O'Flaherty had followed through on his commitment to Oregon State, he could have been part of a College World Series championship in 2006. He has no regrets, however, as he jumped from high Class A to the majors during the year. When he's fresh, O'Flaherty throws a 90-94 mph fastball that darts all over the place and an 85-86 mph slider. He also can mix in an 87-89 mph cutter and a changeup to combat righthanders. His deceptive delivery makes it tough to pick up his pitches, and he has the moxie to pitch in late-inning situations. O'Flaherty needs to get stronger after wearing down by the time he joined the Mariners in August. He had less arm speed in the majors, dropping his fastball velocity to 87-90 mph and costing his slider some bite. While he has enough pitches to start, he struggled physically in that role and missed much of 2004 with back problems. He still needs to fine-tune his control and command. If Jake Woods moves into the rotation, O'Flaherty could stick as the second lefty in Seattle's bullpen. Getting some more Triple-A seasoning wouldn't be bad for him either.
Long a major player on the international stage, the Mariners shelled out $1.9 million last summer to sign a pair of Latin American middle infielders. Triunfel, a Dominican, received $1.3 million, while Mario Martinez, a Venezuelan, got $600,000. Other clubs offered Triunfel more money, but he felt most comfortable signing with Seattle. A potential five-tool shortstop, he looked so good on offense and defense in instructional league that the Mariners will consider allowing him to start his pro career in low Class A--at age 17. Triunfel has the ability to hit for average and power. He has natural strength and already drives balls with backspin that will allow them to carry out of the park once he matures physically. He has an advanced approach and hung in well against more advanced pitchers in instructional league. Triunfel is an above-average runner with good hands and a strong, accurate arm. Seattle can't wait to see what he will do in 2007.
After Tony Butler, Thomas has the best stuff among the lefthanders in the system. He gets good life on an 88-92 mph fastball, backs it up with a solid slider and mixes in a changeup. All three pitches rate as plus at times, though not on a consistent basis. They all move, with his fastball cutting and sinking, his slider breaking laterally and his changeup fading down and away. Thomas also can throw all three of them for strikes, and he has the durable frame to absorb a lot of innings. He gets extra credit for his makeup and was at his best while Inland Empire was winning the California League championship. Thomas struck out 17 and didn't allow a run in 13 innings over two postseason starts. Though he had no problems while reaching high Class A in his first full season, he still has work to do. His command isn't as impressive as his control, he needs to do a better job of staying on top of his slider and his changeup needs to become more reliable. If he can improve in all of those areas, he could become a No. 3 starter. Thomas will open 2007 in Double-A.
Looking for a pinch-hitter for the 2004 stretch drive, the Padres dispatched Huber to the Mariners in exchange for Dave Hansen. Huber scuffled along as a starter until the Mariners moved him to the bullpen last year, rejuvenating his career. He saved 23 games between Double-A and Triple-A and saved his best pitching for the majors, where he posted a 1.08 ERA in 16 appearances. Huber used four pitches as a starter but focused mainly on his fastball and slider as a reliever. Both improved as he worked in shorter stints, with his fastball ranging from 91-95 mph and his slider getting quicker and tighter. Huber also threw more strikes in his new role. He still has a curveball and changeup he can use to keep hitters off balance. He can rely too much on his slider at times, but he already has found a formula that works in the majors. Barring a disastrous spring training, Huber will have a job in Seattle's bullpen.
Wilson was headed to Oklahoma to play linebacker until Seattle took him in the second round and signed him for $900,000. Wilson developed at a painstakingly slow rate in his first three pro seasons, failing to get to full-season ball and struggling with switch-hitting and nagging groin and hamstring injuries. Once he gave up hitting lefthanded in 2005, he began to make progress. He has reached Double-A and hit 40 homers over the last two years while showing better instincts at the plate, on the bases and in the field. He now drives the ball to all fields rather than being a dead-pull hitter. He has shed some of his football bulk without losing strength, and his swing is now much looser than it had been. He runs well once he gets going and has gotten much better in left field, where he's now adequate. His arm has improved from awful to playable, a credit to his diligent work, and he threw out 17 baserunners last year. While he has made significant strides, Wilson still has a ways to go. He has an abrupt hitch in his swing and still chases sliders, though he now will handle some breaking balls he used to miss by two feet. He continues to draw walks but his strikeout rate spiked in 2006, even moreso after he reached Double-A. His routes in the outfield could still use some more improvement. Wilson has to close the holes in the game, but he has legitimate power and has a ceiling as an everyday left fielder. He'll probably open this year back in Double-A.
In 2005, his first full pro season, Johnson rated as the best defensive catcher in the low Class A Midwest League, reached high Class A and finished by playing for Team USA in the World Cup. With Kenji Johjima signed through 2008, the Mariners have no glaring need for a catcher. Yet they promoted Johnson all the way to Triple-A and compounded that decision by having him share time with Guillermo Quiroz and eventually Jeff Clement. As a result, Johnson caught just 74 games at a level at which he wasn't ready for offensively. His plate discipline eroded and his swing looked long. He has good raw power but has hit just 16 homers in 221 pro games. To produce more pop, he needs to add some loft to his swing, maintain his strength better over the course of a season and do a better job of waiting for pitches he can punish. Johnson is more athletic and runs better than most catchers. Throw in his arm strength, which enabled him to throw out 45 percent of basestealers in 2006, and he should be able to at least fill in at both infield and outfield corners. Though Johnson is the best defensive catcher in the system, his receiving can leave a lot to be desired. Despite his lack of playing time, he tied for the Pacific Coast League lead with 11 passed balls. Seattle plans on sending him back to Triple-A. With Johjima and Clement ahead of him on the depth chart, Johnson's best shot at having a role with Seattle is as a catcher/utilityman.
LaHair followed up his breakout 2005 performance by proving it was no fluke, earning Seattle's minor league player of the year award. He has become a regular for Team USA, playing in its last three tournaments: the World Cup and Olympic regional qualifier in 2005, and the Olympic qualifier in 2006. LaHair's resurgence began when he started getting his front foot down quicker, improving his timing at the plate. LaHair offers Sean Casey-like production as a first baseman and may have even more power, as he as started to drive the ball more regularly during game action and not just in batting practice. He uses the entire field and has good plate coverage. Originally drafted as a corner outfielder/third baseman, LaHair isn't very athletic and is limited to first base. He has below-average speed and defensive skills. While he has become an organization favorite, his lack of versatility presents a problem. Richie Sexson has two years and $28 million remaining on his contract, closing off any opportunity at first base. LaHair has hit just .218 and .209 versus lefthanders over the last two seasons, so he may not be more than a platoon player. He'll probably open the season back in Triple-A but should get his first shot at the majors at some point in 2007.
Tuiasosopo's father Manu and brother Marques both have played in the NFL, and Tuiasosopo was on a football path when he accepted a scholarship to play quarterback at Washington. Then the Mariners stepped in, taking him with their top pick in the 2004 draft and signing him for a third-round-record $2.29 million bonus. Tuiasosopo has mostly struggled as a pro. His athleticism and strength are still evident, and it's easy to see his potential, but he hasn't produced much at the plate. He uses an inside-out swing and takes most balls the other way, short-circuiting his power. He hasn't made effective adjustments or adopted a consistent approach. His stroke is long and he has a high leg kick that throws his timing off. His pitch recognition still needs work and he tends to dive into balls, leaving him vulnerable on the inner half. When his bat started to get going in the hitter-friendly California League last year, the Mariners promoted him to Double-A at age 20 and he was overmatched. He has good speed for his size and runs well underway. In his first two years in pro ball, Tuiasosopo played shortstop, where his actions and quickness were short. He moved to third base last June, and has the soft hands, arm strength and agility to be an asset there. The Mariners hope Tuiasosopo will start a Michael Wilson-like turnaround this year in Double-A.
Kahn had first-round aspirations in the 2005 draft, but he lost his fastball command and went just 5-6, 5.60 as a junior, and he fell to the Mariners in the fifth round. Seattle decided he would fit best into the bullpen and moved him there in pro ball. He had little trouble in the lower minors, blowing away hitters with a 94-97 mph fastball. But when he got to Double-A last summer, his lack of command quickly caught up to him. There's a lot of effort and a head jerk in his delivery, and he doesn't help matters by trying to throw harder when he gets into trouble. Kahn has good depth on his 12-to-6 curveball, but it's a loose, loopy pitch and he has trouble controlling it as well. He has a decent changeup but seems more interested in lighting up radar guns. Despite his big fastball, Kahn may never have the second pitch, command or mentality to be trusted as more than a setup man. He'll give Double- A another try in 2007.
Varvaro averaged more strikeouts per nine innings (12.1, ranking sixth in NCAA Division I) than St. John's teammate Craig Hansen (11.9), now with the Red Sox, in 2005. However, Varvaro blew out his elbow that May, and the Mariners took a flier on him in the 12th round. Prior to the injury, he had a 92-94 mph fastball, a hard curveball and a chance to go as high as the supplemental first round. Since signing him for $500,000, Varvaro has pitched just 11 innings in the Arizona League. That was long enough for him to show that his stuff should bounce back, as he showed good arm speed and pitched at 90-91 mph. There was also tightness to his curve. Varvaro should be at full strength this year, though the Mariners could have him open the year in extended spring training rather than pitching in the cold April climate of the Midwest League. Varvaro needs work on developing a better changeup and reducing the effort in his delivery. He has the upside of a No. 3 starter.
Valbuena hit just .224 in April in his first shot at full-season ball, but hit .305 in the Midwest League the rest of the way, then finished the season in high Class A as a 20-year-old. He has a very good approach at the plate, handles the bat well and draws walks. He also has some pull-side power, which will be more evident as he gets stronger. Valbuena has slightly below-average speed coming out of the box and is an average runner underway. He doesn't have a lot of range at second base, but he makes the routine play. He encouraged the Mariners with some defensive improvements in 2006, as he looked lighter on his feet and slicker on his double-play pivot. Valbuena is comparable to Yung-Chi Chen; Chen has more power and runs better, while Valbuena is a better defender. He'll open 2007 in high Class A.
The Mariners traded righthander Marcos Carvajal to the Devil Rays for de la Cruz four months after acquiring Carvajal. In his first year in the system, de la Cruz was named Inland Empire's pitcher of the year and saved the final game of the California League playoffs. There's no deception involved with de la Cruz. He's a 6-foot-7, 245-pound hulk who tries to throw his heavy 91-95 mph sinker by hitters. His second pitch is a slider that can be a plus pitch at times and can flatten out at others. His delivery has some effort to it, but it works for him. De la Cruz managed to significantly improve his control last season, but his command still needs some work. He has a closer's mindset and has the stuff to pitch in the late innings. Still a couple of years away from the majors, he'll move up to Double-A in 2007.
Blackley was the system's best lefty prospect when he reached Seattle in July 2004, but then things started to unravel for him. He changed his approach and tried to pitch away from contact, falling behind in counts and then getting crushed when he came back over the plate. After returning to Triple-A, he went on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis, and during the offseason doctors found two small tears in his labrum. Blackley had shoulder surgery in February 2005 and missed that season, but he was able to make 27 starts last year. His stuff is starting to get back to where it was. Blackley's best pitch is still his changeup, and he still throws it with the same arm speed as his fastball. He worked mostly at 84-89 mph with his fastball in 2006, down from 87-92 in the past. His fastball's command and movement always trumped its velocity anyway. His 74-76 mph curveball features some bite and depth, but not on a consistent basis. The Mariners were most pleased that Blackley regained his aggressive nature and confidence and hope his stuff can get a tick better as he puts the surgery further behind him. The back of Seattle's rotation is unsettled, so Blackley could fit into that mix, though he could use some time in Triple-A first.
Rohrbaugh's best attribute may be his mound presence, which enabled him to succeed in Double-A during his first full pro season. He repeats his simple delivery extremely well, which allows him to throw all three of his pitches for strikes. His fastball arrives at just 86-90 mph, but hitters don't get good swings against it. His fastball has some cutter action on it, and he throws on a good downward plane from a high three-quarters angle. Rohrbaugh throws a three-quarters breaking ball, somewhere between a curveball and slider, that draws mixed reviews from scouts. It doesn't fool lefthanders, who had much more success (batting .305) against him than righties (.229) did last year. His average changeup features some fade and sink. Rohrbaugh projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter and has proven himself at a top college program and up through Double-A, and he should reach Triple-A some time in 2007.
When the Mariners drafted Saunders out of a British Columbia high school in 2004, baseball faced a visa shortage that would have made it impossible to start his pro career. So he attended Tallahassee (Fla.) CC for a year before signing as a draft-and-follow for $237,500. He showed promise in his pro debut but had difficulty solving low Class A pitching in his first full season in 2006. While Saunders has raw tools and a fluid stroke, he was unprepared mentally or physically for playing on an everyday basis. He did make some adjustments, batting .298 from July until mid-August, when he left to play for Canada at an Olympic qualifying tournament in Cuba, where he hit a team-best .448. A multisport athlete growing up, Saunders showed NHL potential in hockey and also starred in basketball, lacrosse and soccer. He also showed an 88-91 mph fastball as a pitcher. His best tool is his raw power, created by natural loft in his swing, but he'll have to make more consistent contact in order to tap into it. He has solid speed but could slow down as he fills out, making a move from center to right field likely in his future. Seattle may have him repeat low Class A, which would give Wisconsin a very toolsy outfield of Saunders, Greg Halman and Carlos Peguero.
Halman signed after winning the MVP award in the Dutch league as a 17-year-old. The popular comparison among Mariners officials is Andre Dawson, because Halman is long-limbed, high-waisted athlete. He has a projectable frame and present strength, and Seattle envisions him hitting for power and average once he matures physically, gains more experience and tightens his strike zone. He needs to improve his approach, because he's a dead-pull hitter who chases pitches. Halman is a long-strider who runs well for his size, especially once he gets going. Halman may be able to stay in center field, and if he can't he has more than enough arm and bat projection to play in right. The biggest negative about his 2006 season was that it lasted just a month because he broke his right hand in an on-field brawl. Though he's still young and raw, Seattle will promote him to low Class A this year as a 19-year-old.
Liddi is one of two Italian-born players in professional baseball; Cubs minor league righthander Alessandro Maestri is the other. They were two of the four prospects signed out of Major League Baseball International's inaugural European Baseball Academy, held at the Italian national Olympic training center in Tirrenia in 2005. Seattle signed him for $55,000. He made his pro debut in 2006 and finished fifth in the Arizona League batting race as a 17- year-old. It's easy to dream about Liddi's projected power, as he has a good swing and lots of room to add strength to his skinny 6-foot-4, 176-pound frame. He shows an aptitude for driving the ball to right-center and should learn to turn on pitches in time. As with most of Seattle's young international players, he still has a lot to learn about plate discipline. It's possible he could outgrow the hot corner if he fills out, but he has a plus arm (he touched 88 mph off the mound as an amateur), soft hands and the agility to make plays. He moves well for his size but probably will slow down to a below-average runner once he physically matures. Besides his tools, the Mariners also rave about Liddi's love for the game and work ethic. He'll be one of the youngest players in the Midwest League this year.
Three Mariners farmhands shared the Arizona League home run title last summer: first baseman/outfielder Gerardo Avila, outfielder Welington Dotel and Peguero. Peguero, who also led the league in slugging percentage, tied them even though he moved up to Everett for the final month. He has plenty of strength in his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame, but he's more than just a masher. He uses the whole field and shows some aptitude for hitting for average as well as power. One club official compared his swing to Fred McGriff's. Peguero is a good athlete and he has above-average speed, though he'll slow down as he gets older and fills out. He has a plus arm as well and should be able to stick in right field. Still raw overall, Peguero's control of the strike zone is rudimentary, and he struggled against better quality pitching in the Northwest League. He also needs to hone his baserunning and defensive instincts. Peguero will be a regular in low Class A this year at age 20.
After spending the previous two seasons working mainly out of the bullpen, Jimenez operated out of the rotation for most of 2006 and hit his stride last summer, allowing only one earned run in 43 innings over six Triple-A starts. He wore down afterward, as he had as a starter in the past. He spent three weeks on the Tacoma disabled list in August with a sore elbow and got hammered when he made his big league debut in September. Jimenez likely will wind up as a reliever because he holds up better and shows better stuff in that role. Hovever, he could open 2007 back in the Triple-A rotation His best pitch is his changeup, making him effective against righthanders. His fastball has some cut action and sits at 88- 89 mph and touches 92 when he operates out of the bullpen--2-3 mph quicker than when he starts. He also does a better job of throwing strikes and keeping the ball down in relief.
Managers rated Navarro the top defensive shortstop in the Texas League last year, and he has been the best defensive infielder on our Mariners tools list for three years running. Navarro still has to prove he can hit enough to earn a big league role. Defensively, he could play in the majors right now. He has above-average hands, actions and instincts at shortstop, and scouts grade his arm and range from solid to plus. Nothing stands out about his offensive game, and his strikeout rate spiked in the upper minors last year. He doesn't hit for much average or power, and his average speed doesn't lend itself to basestealing. His plate discipline improved last season but still took a hit when he was pushed to Triple-A. His ceiling is as a defensive-minded utilityman. He'll spend most of 2007 in Triple-A.
Nomar Garciaparra's younger brother did little to justify his $2 million signing bonus in his first four years of pro ball, repeatedly missing time with nagging injuries and hitting just .257. He decided to change his outlook in 2006, focusing on enjoying the game and not worrying about his pedigree or performance. That worked, as he reached Triple-A and hit .342 in the Arizona Fall League. Now, Garciaparra is hitting the ball where it's pitched and using the opposite field more than ever before. He doesn't have a lot of pop, but he can sting the ball into the gaps on occasion. He does a good job with pitch recognition and draws some walks. He has average speed. Signed as a shortstop, Garciaparra moved to second base, where his range and arm profile better, full-time in 2005. His reliable hands are his best defensive trait. He's one of the hardest workers in the system, and the Mariners admire his perserverance. He may never get the chance to be a regular in Seattle, but he could carve out a utility role.