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undrafted out of a small high school in central North Carolina because he had a balky elbow and had faced low-level prep competition, Ackley starred for three seasons at North Carolina. Baseball America's 2007 Freshman of the Year, he led the Tar Heels to College World Series appearances in all three of his years, making the all-tournament team each time and setting the CWS record with 28 hits in 15 games. In NCAA postseason play, he batted 55-for-134 (.410) over 31 games, finishing with a 22-game hitting streak. Ackley finished as North Carolina's all-time leader in batting (.412), hits (346), runs (227) and total bases (544). He cracked 22 homers in 2009 after combining to hit 17 during his first two seasons, and earned first-team All-America honors as well as the nod as Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year. Selected second overall by Seattle, Ackley signed a five-year major league contract at the Aug. 17 deadline, a deal that included a $6 million bonus and a $7.5 million guarantee. Dustin's father John spent seven seasons as a catcher in the Red Sox system, topping out in Triple-A. Ask any scout about Ackley and they'll focus immediately on his pure lefthanded stroke and his awe-inspiring feel for hitting. He combines all the necessary ingredients to win batting titles in the big leagues, including supreme hand-eye coordination, bat speed and a balanced, all-fields approach. He recognizes pitches and barrels up those in the strike zone. Most evaluators predict average power for Ackley, whose wiry strength is concentrated in his hands and forearms. Though he's not an overly physical player, he can turn on inside fastballs and pull them for home runs, and he can launch bombs to center field during batting practice. In games, however, he focuses on hitting the ball up the middle and to the opposite field, projecting as more of a gap-to-gap hitter. Ackley is a strong athlete who grades as an above-average runner and flashes 70 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale. He gets out of the box quickly and down the line in a shade under four seconds. Under way, he appears to glide despite his short running stride, and he aggressively seeks the extra base. Ackley injured his throwing arm while pitching as a prep senior and had Tommy John surgery following his sophomore year at North Carolina, which precluded him from playing more than a handful of games in center field in 2009, as had been planned. He spent the majority of his time at first base, where he rated as a solid defender. His arm strength rates as below-average, and he has yet to prove he can handle any position but first base on a daily basis. A unique talent, Ackley draws no natural comparisons. The Mariners haven't decided his future position. He played a bit of center field but mostly left in the Arizona Fall League, and Seattle planned to try him out at second base in January workouts. Wherever Ackley settles on the diamond, he should hit. He ought to reach Double-A West Tenn, at the very least, by the end of his first pro season.
After recovering from arthroscopic shoulder surgery in the offseason, Saunders joined Triple-A Tacoma in late April and he turned in his finest pro season to date. Seattle rewarded him with a callup in late July, whereupon he faced lefties in five of his first six starts and Roy Halladay in the other. Not coincidentally, he got off to a 4-for-27 (.148) start. Saunders shows all five tools, scoring average marks across the board. He has quality bat speed and can pull the ball for power, though he didn't homer in 46 big league games. He can bunt for hits, controls the strike zone and hits offspeed pitches to left field, showing the ingredients necessary to hit for average. He runs well and has more than enough range and arm strength to handle a corner outfield post. Because he works deep counts, Saunders likely will continue to strike out at a healthy pace. The Mariners sat Saunders down for a stretch in September to address mechanical issues in his swing. Hitting coach Alan Cockrell helped him create more leverage and power in his stroke by incorporating his legs more efficiently. Gauging by how well Saunders hit in the Venezuelan League this winter, the lesson seemed to take. Saunders' steady development through the minors underscores his aptitude and dedication to his craft. He should be the Mariners' regular left fielder for 2010 and beyond.
Considered more of a slugger coming out of Texas-Arlington, Moore has significantly polished his defensive game, working relentlessly with catching instructor Roger Hansen on improving his footwork and technique. That effort paid off when the Mariners traded Jeff Clement to the Pirates in July, clearly making Moore their catcher of the future. He got his first big league exposure in September. Moore has a balanced approach and compact, line-drive stroke, allowing him to make consistent contact and wait on offspeed pitches. He's strong and generates plus power for the catching position. Agile for his size, he has cleaned up his blocking and receiving to the point where he can now count them as assets. He has a plus arm and ranked second in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League by throwing out 31 percent of basestealers last year. Moore has no notable shortcomings, though like most catchers, he's a well below-average runner. Despite his minor league performance, he doesn't have premium bat speed. With natural leadership skills, Moore possesses all the tools to catch regularly in the big leagues. He logged a career-high 113 games behind the plate last season and stands first in line on Seattle's big league depth chart for 2010.
The Mariners greeted Aumont with a surprise in spring training, telling the towering righthander that he'd continue his career in relief. They reasoned that the move not only would accelerate his timetable, but also would help him stay healthy after elbow soreness limited him to 56 innings in 2008. The recipient of a $1.9 million bonus as the 11th overall pick in 2007, he converted 12 of 14 save opportunities at high Class A High Desert before running into resistance in Double-A. Aumont wowed observers of the World Baseball Classic with his arm strength, imposing physique and tenacity as he guided Canada out of a none-out, bases-loaded jam against Team USA. His heavy sinker ranges from 92-95 mph with plus-plus life down in the zone. He dials his four-seamer up to 98 mph and savors challenging batters. His mid-70s curveball features occasional plus 12-to-6 break, especially when he repeats his high three-quarters arm slot and gets extension on the front side of his delivery. Aumont's high adrenaline levels can work against him at times. He missed the final three weeks of the season after breaking his non-pitching hand when he punched his locker. The biggest thing holding him back is an overall lack of command. His changeup is too firm, though it has some splitter action. If everything falls into place, Aumont has closer potential. He didn't exactly allay concerns by walking eight batters and allowing 18 runs in 12 Arizona Fall League innings. He'll get another crack at Double-A in 2010.
The first Italian position player to play pro ball in the United States, Liddi hit .313 in an encouraging 2006 pro debut but then limped through two years in the low Class A Midwest League as a teenager, batting .240/.306/.365 over 249 games. A promotion to a hitter's paradise in High Desert helped him unlock his significant offensive potential. Liddi hit .345 to lead all minor leaguers and also won California League MVP honors. He participated in the World Baseball Classic in March and the Futures Game in July. Most evaluators agree that Liddi's huge 2009 season was no mirage. With strong wrists, he generates natural power to center and right-center, and he did a better job of pulling the ball for power. Though he remains tall and lanky, he's beginning to add muscle to his frame. He has a feel for hitting, with his smooth stroke and solid plate coverage. His pitch selectivity improved in the second half, coinciding with a toe tap he added to his stance. He rates as a strong defender at third base, featuring soft hands and above-average arm strength. Liddi's athletic actions are not exactly graceful, and he already rates as a below-average runner. Some observers think his 2009 season was a product of his home ballpark, and he hit a more representative .308/.351/.498 with six homers on the road. With his breakout performance, Liddi cleared a giant hurdle in 2009. How well he makes the transition to a less favorable hitting environment in Double-A this year will reveal a lot about his future.
Triunfel signed for $1.3 million in 2006 and moved rapidly to high Class A in his pro debut a year later. After returning there in 2008, he missed most of last season when he fractured his fibula and tore ankle ligaments in his left leg during a grisly baserunning collision. Triunfel combines pure bat speed, coordination and barrel awareness to profile as a plus hitter. His impatient approach cuts into his production, but on the flip side he can hit all types of pitches to all fields. His strong, accurate arm rates at least a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale and makes him a natural fit for the left side of the infield. His hands are soft enough to play shortstop. A bat wrap inhibits Triunfel's ability to turn on quality stuff on the inner half of the plate, which artificially caps his average power potential. He's a below-average runner who lacks the quickness and range to be an everyday shortstop, and his arm would be wasted at second base. His weight ballooned to near 220 pounds while he rehabbed his leg injuries. As a result, the Mariners hired a nutritionist to formulate a strict diet for him and he got his weight back down while playing in the Arizona Fall League. Triunfel still hasn't found a defensive home. He'll head back to Double-A, where he'll continue to play multiple positions while learning to trust his surgically repaired ankle.
Pineda toyed with Midwest League batters in 2008, ranking second in the circuit in ERA (1.95) and opponent average (.216). He picked up right where he left off last season, paying little heed to the tough pitching environments of High Desert and the California League as a whole. Mavericks Stadium didn't undermine him, but his elbow did, as lingering soreness sent him to the disabled list and limited him to 47 innings. Pineda's velocity returned when he pitched in the Cal League playoffs, with his fastball sitting at 91-92 mph and touching 94. It has good armside run, allowing him to tie up righthanders. He works the other side of the plate with an 86-91 mph cutter, and also shows advanced feel for a changeup. The natural movement he imparts on his pitches makes them difficult to square up. Pineda's elbow pain is cause for concern. He struggled to hold his velocity into the late innings last year. He'll snap off a true slider in the high 70s on occasion, but when he overthrows, the pitch is more of a cut fastball with short break. Having added 60-70 pounds to his frame since signing, Pineda has a strong build suited for the rotation--if his elbow holds up. Not many Mariners farmhands can match his upside, so the organization may opt to challenge Pineda with a ticket to Double-A in 2010.
A native of Vancouver, Gillies joins fellow Canadians Michael Saunders and Phillippe Aumont on this Top 10 list. Gillies skipped over low Class A on his way to High Desert last year, when he led the California League with 44 steals and ranked third in the minors in hitting (.341) and triples (14), fourth in runs (104) and fifth in on-base percentage (.430). Hearing deficiencies require him to wear hearing aids in both ears, and he has adapted by learning to read lips proficiently. A high-energy sparkplug, Gillies burst onto the national scene by stealing two bases at the Futures Game, where he also blazed a 3.4- second trail to first base on a bunt attempt. The top athlete in the system, his speed earns 80 grades on the 20-80 scouting scale from some evaluators. His quickness, hand-eye coordination and feel for the strike zone give him a chance to hit .280 or better. His speed translates into well above-average range in center field, where he boasts the system's top outfield arm. After Gillies was thrown out 19 times last season, the Mariners had him work on his basestealing technique during a two-week tutorial in Arizona. At the plate, he deploys a slap-and-run approach that rules out power almost completely. He homered only once away from High Desert. Hungry and talented, Gillies is eager to tackle the Double-A Southern League, where a combination of better defenses and more neutral ballpark conditions will put his tools to the test.
Franklin helped Lake Brantley High (Altamonte Springs, Fla.) win the Florida 6-A title in 2008, then bashed 10 homers to lead it back to the playoffs last spring. The 27th overall pick in the draft, he passed on an Auburn commitment to sign at the Aug. 17 deadline for $1.28 million. The Mariners received the choice from the Phillies as compensation for free agent Raul Ibanez, whose signing six years ago cost Seattle its top pick in the 2004 draft. The Mariners drafted Franklin as high as they did because of his strong defensive tools, which include plus range to both sides as well as good actions and hands. He has the instincts to stick in the middle infield. A switch-hitter, he possesses a short, compact stroke from both sides, projecting as more of a singles and doubles hitter than true home run threat. His lefthanded swing is more refined than his righthanded stroke thanks to repetition. He's a tick above-average runner. A thin, wiry athlete, Franklin turned around good velocity while using metal bats, but he might top out near 10 homers with wood. Evaluations of his arm strength vary from below-average to a tick above, and his three-quarters arm slot costs him crispness and accuracy. He has less range going into the hole than to his glove side. The sum of Franklin's game is greater than the individual parts, and his gritty, enthusiastic style of play wins over most observers. Because his bat is more advanced, the Mariners may opt to send Franklin to low Class A Clinton in order to find playing time at shortstop for both him and Gabriel Noriega.
Halman's showing in the World Baseball Classic--1-for-11 with nine strikeouts while playing for the Netherlands--was a harbinger of things to come. A year after finishing a homer shy of a 30-30 season and ranking No. 1 on this list, he endured long stretches void of productivity. He tied for the Southern League lead with 25 home runs, yet ranked last in average (.210), on-base percentage (.278), strikeouts (183) and K-BB ratio (6.3). Halman's game is centered on quick-twitch athleticism. It lends him explosive power at the plate and long, graceful strides in center field, where he's a solid defender with a strong arm. Plus-plus power is attainable with his whip-like bat speed and strong forearms. Lean and long-limbed, Halman draws physical comparisons to Andre Dawson and Alfonso Soriano. Though he's a tick above-average runner, he attempted just 16 steals in 2009 after swiping 30 in each of the past two seasons. Eaten alive by a poor hitting approach, Halman was on target to set the SL's strikeout record before a bruised heel knocked him out for two weeks in June. He still wound up leading the minors with 191 over two stops. In contrast to years past, he struggled to put pitches in play early in counts, then seemed incapable of recognizing and maintaining enough balance to hit breaking balls. The Mariners have stressed to him the need for consistency and improved self-discipline. Halman stopped by instructional league to put in extra work. He remained upbeat after a tough year, perhaps because he's been there before. A year before his 2008 breakthrough, he bombed in the Midwest League. The ultimate boom or bust prospect, he'll return to Double-A to begin 2010.
Cortes was the Royals' top-ranked pitching prospect entering the 2009 season, but his stuff seemed flat by comparison when he repeated Double-A. An arrest for public urination in July was the final straw for Kansas City, which traded him for Yuniesky Betancourt, who had fallen out of favor in Seattle. Cortes pitched much better for West Tenn after the trade, striking out a batter per inning and going 1-2, 2.70 in his final six starts. In some ways, Cortes resembles Phillippe Aumont as a tall, physical righthander who boasts arm strength and intensity on the mound. At his best, he sits at 92-94 mph with late life down in the zone. He reels off a hard, sharp curveball for his finishing pitch, and also mixes in a loopy slider as a get-me-over offering. He has developed more feel for an average changeup. Cortes came to the Mariners with a max-effort delivery and didn't consistently throw strikes. He toned down his mechanics, and his composure and strikeout rate improved noticeably. He still walks too many batters, handing out 5.7 walks per nine innings last season. He already has been traded twice, a rare trick for a pitcher with such a good arm. Cortes' command has to take a major step forward for him to profile as a starter, but even with fringy command he has the weapons to work as a late-inning reliever. After two full seasons in Double-A, he's ready for Triple-A.
Signed as a shortstop for $600,000, Martinez outgrew his natural position after his first pro season in 2007. Since moving to third base, he has hit .313 over 553 at-bats in short-season ball the past two years. He paced the short-season Northwest League with 93 hits and ranked third with 20 doubles in 2009, though that came after he flunked the Midwest League during the first three months of the season. Martinez's level swing, all-fields approach and knack for contact should allow him to hit for average. He has cranked five home runs in each of the past two seasons, but his natural strength and the bat speed to turn around high velocity portend at least average power. He's an average runner who figures to slow down as he matures. Martinez already has a big league body, with surprising agility for his size. He ranges well to both sides, has soft hands and shows consistent above-average arm strength. Martinez speaks fluent English, having learned it during his first instructional league, and he mentors and translates for Spanish-speaking teammates. He'll tackle the MWL again in 2010.
The Tigers surrendered Robles and Luke French to the Mariners in late July when they wanted Jarrod Washburn to slot behind Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson in the rotation. An outfielder prior to signing, Robles jumped from the Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League to full-season ball in 2008. He's short but strong, especially in the lower half, and he made strides in repeating his delivery in 2009. He sat at 90-91 mph and touched 95, and he also held his velocity deeper into games. Robles throws a power curveball in the low 80s, a pitch that rates as below-average now but flashes plus potential. He tends to slow his arm down to throw his breaking ball and changeup. If he develops a better feel for his changeup, he could mature into a No. 4 or 5 starter. He certainly has the bulldog demeanor required. Robles finished the year with six strong starts for High Desert and then blitzed through two California League playoff outings, whiffing 13 in 11 innings. He'll likely return to high Class A to start the year.
The Red Sox first drafted Hill in 2006, but U.S. Military Academy rules at the time prohibited the 47thround pick from signing. The Mariners made him the highest-drafted player ever from Army the following year, signing him for $70,000 as a seventh-round senior. He started his pro career that summer under the military's alternative-service option, which allowed him to forgo active duty. He has participated in recruiting efforts in the minor league cities where he was assigned, and he has spent his offseasons meeting with prospective student- athlete cadets. Hill completed his two-year service commitment last summer, taking leave from West Tenn for a month to do so. To make up for lost time, the Mariners sent him to the Arizona Fall League. Hill works effectively as both a reliever and starter, sitting at 87-89 mph with good sink and reaching as high as 91-92 with his four-seam fastball. He throws an 83-84 mph slider with solid depth and tilt. Add in his changeup, and he has the weaponry to attack lefthanders and righthanderrs. With his work ethic and competitiveness, Seattle envisions him making a big league impact at some point in 2010, most likely in the bullpen.
Carrera stood in the shadow of the other two minor leaguers acquired from the Mets in the December 2008 trade of J.J. Putz, but the slight center fielder passed Maikel Cleto and Mike Carp by winning the Southern League's batting (.337) and on-base percentage (.441) titles in 2009. In fact, his OBP ranked third in the minors. While in the Mets system, he revered fellow Venezuelan Endy Chavez, whose game Carrera emulates. He excels as a defensive outfielder because of his first-step quickness and proper angles to the ball. He doesn't throw well, but he improved his release time and accuracy in 2009. An above-average runner, Carrera is adept at bunting for hits, stretching singles into doubles and stealing bases late in games. The definition of a pesky hitter, he can outlast pitchers for walks by fouling off even quality offerings. He offers little power, and none against lefthanders, against whom he still looks uncomfortable. He also doesn't read lefties well on stolen-base attempts, and his success rate fell from 81 percent versus righthanders to 43 percent against southpaws. He spent time on the disabled list with a high ankle sprain and sprained thumb last year, both sustained while chasing down balls in the outfield. Farm director Pedro Grifol describes Carrera as having a compact game, excelling in all aspects of small ball. It's difficult to see him supplanting any of Seattle's starting outfielders, but Carrera profiles as a valuable reserve.
Former scouting director Bob Fontaine's final first-round pick for the Mariners, Fields finally signed on Feb. 16, 2009. He agreed to a bonus of $1.75 million--the midpoint between his $2 million asking price and the Mariners' longstanding $1.5 million offer. The Aug. 15 signing deadline didn't apply to Fields because he was a college senior with no eligibility remaining. In a four-year run as closer for Georgia, he set a Southeastern Conference record with 41 saves and helped pitch the Bulldogs to a runner-up finish in the 2008 College World Series. Though he's not physical, Fields has incredible arm speed, enabling him to fire fastballs at a consistent 93- 96 mph. His low-80s power curveball features quality depth and rates as the best in the system. He really doesn't throw a changeup, having started only one game since high school. Fields' max-effort delivery is both deceptive and difficult to repeat, which makes throwing strikes a challenge. He wore down in 2009 after his long layoff and under the strain of a higher workload. He twice landed on the disabled list, first with a dead arm and then a strained oblique. A pair of plus-plus pitches gives him the upside as a late-inning reliever, possibly a closer, but first Fields must prove he can throw enough strikes. He'll get that chance with another run at Double-A.
Elon's career strikeout leader and the highest draft pick (fourth round) in school history, Hensley had his 2008 pro debut cut short by a partially torn elbow ligament. He opted for rest and rehab rather than surgery and made a full recovery in 2009, logging 148 innings--the majority of them in pitching-hostile High Desert--while pacing the organization with 135 strikeouts. Hensley aggressively throws strikes with his 88-92 mph fastball and plus hard slider. His fastball hit 94 during most starts, and more consistently in the second half of the season. His changeup, which he didn't use much in college, shows solid potential. He also throws a curveball, but it flattens out, as do his other pitches, when he drops from his usual high three-quarters arm slot. He's not overpowering, but he balances that by being a top competitor. Hensley could develop into a durable innings-eater or a setup reliever. The next step is conquering Double-A, where he got hit hard in three starts last year.
Ramirez concluded his English training following the 2008 season and took a step toward making his name sound more Americanized by shortening it from Juan (or Juan Carlos) to J.C. One thing remained unchanged: He's a physical, durable pitcher who increased his workload again in 2009. The Mariners added him to the 40- man roster, though Ramirez remains raw and unrefined. His stuff is top-shelf, beginning with a lively 92-94 mph fastball that he can dial up to 96-97 when necessary. Even with present spotty command, his heater reminds Jaime Navarro, his pitching coach for two years running, of Kevin Brown's: "Just hard and down." Ramirez puts good spin on his high-70s slider, but the pitch lacks consistent tilt because he often drops his hands during delivery, which lowers his arm slot. He tends to slow his motion when not throwing a fastball, hindering his feel for his below-average changeup as well as his slider. He shows a tendency toward overthrowing, where he'll fly open and not incorporate his lower half. He also needs to do a better job of concentrating on the mound. Ramirez has mid-rotation potential and more than enough raw stuff to pitch in a big league bullpen if he can't remain a starter. His results away from High Desert were fine last year--3.09 ERA with two homers allowed in 11 starts--meaning he could graduate to Double-A in 2010.
When the Mariners signed free agents Eddie Guardado and Raul Ibanez five years ago, they forfeited their top two draft choices in 2004. They generously paid their top pick--Tuiasosopo at No. 93 overall--and his $2.29 million bonus still stands as the third-round record. An amateur quarterback whose father Manu and brother Marques both played in the NFL, Tuiasosopo turned down a football scholarship to Washington. He struggled mightily during his first three full seasons but has made steady improvements the last two years. His slugging percentage has climbed from .343 in Double-A to .460 in Triple-A as he has learned to identify and turn on his pitch. Raw strength never has been an issue. His strikeout rate soared in 2009 as he dealt with a sore right elbow that required surgery to remove a bone spur and knocked him out for two months. When healthy, he has solid plate coverage and above-average bat speed. Tuiasosopo hasn't played shortstop regularly since 2006, but he returned to his middle-infield roots last season, appearing in 27 games at second base between Tacoma and Seattle. A quality defender with a strong arm, he was adequate at second--though he doesn't look the part with his tall, muscled frame--after playing there during spring training over the years. He runs and moves well for his size. Tuiasosopo continues to succeed because of his top-notch competitive makeup. He has two minor league options remaining, so while he's in the mix for big league time at third base, he'll likely head to Triple-A to polish his second-base play and learn the corner outfield.
The Mariners defied scouting convention in preferring Jones as a position player. It's rare that a club walks away from low-90s velocity from the left side, but Jones went just 1-9, 7.40 in the second-tier Northeast Conference in 2009. Seattle signed him as a fourth-round pick for $267,300 and installed him as a right fielder at short-season Everett, where observers lauded the quality of his at-bats. Jones recognizes breaking balls, seldom chases pitches out of the zone and generates above-average bat speed with quick hands and wrists. He added more than 50 pounds to his lanky, long-limbed frame in three years at Long Island, and he still has projection remaining in his upper body. His high, tapered waist masks a strong lower half. Jones can drive the ball to all fields and is still growing into his power, which likely will grade as average when all's said and done. He's also a tick above-average runner who reads the ball well off the bat and covers more than enough ground in right. Jones touched 95 mph off the mound in college, and his quick, accurate arm rates as plus-plus in the outfield. He also has experience playing first base. Evaluators unanimously credit him with outstanding makeup. Given time to develop, Jones could develop into a solid regular in right field, though he'll always have pitching in his back pocket if needed.
Raben didn't have the chance to build on his promising 2008 pro debut, when he slugged .560 in the Northwest League despite a nagging finger injury. He missed all of last season after having microfracture surgery in April to help aid his body in replacing cartilage in his chronically sore right knee. Raben will return with the same offensive profile, though his decreased mobility will now limit him to first base. His range in left field was nothing special, though his arm is average. Raben stands out in the batter's box, where his résumé as a lefthanded power source is bolstered by his track record with wood. He shined in the Cape Cod League in 2007 and might have been a first-round pick in 2008 if not for a back injury during his junior year. Raben's plus power to all fields comes at a cost. He strikes out a lot and never hit higher than .292 in three college campaigns, so expecting him to hit for average in the major leagues is a stretch. He wasn't a factor on the bases even before his knee surgery. Raben turns 23 in July and has yet to play a game in a full-season league, so reaching high Class A in 2010 is imperative.
Few if any clubs scout Latin America more efficiently than the Mariners, who snagged Morban for $1.1 million in July 2008. Though he doesn't have the explosive power of fellow Dominican outfielder Guillermo Pimentel, Morban has a better feel for hitting, more speed and a stronger defensive profile. Seattle intended to challenge him in the Rookie-level Appalachian League last season, but a left shoulder sprain grounded him in the Arizona League for all but four games. At 17, he still ranked as one of the AZL's youngest players, though the bum shoulder limited him to just six games in the field. A pure hitter with a compact stroke, Morban shows above-average bat speed and the willingness to hit to all fields. He ought to be an above-average hitter in time. Despite his youth, Morban's mature frame doesn't leave much room for projection, but he already has enough thunder in his bat to hit for average or better power. He runs and throws well, but perhaps not well enough to hold down center field on a daily basis. His instincts enhance his game on both sides of the ball. If Morban's bat develops, he profiles as a starting corner outfielder.
Carp made his big league debut with the Mariners last June, after joining the organization the previous offseason in the three-team, 12-player blockbuster trade involving the Mets and Indians. Playing every other day for the Mariners in September, Carp batted .315 with moderate power and a good batting eye. The plate discipline is real, but his offensive ceiling more closely mirrors his performance in Triple-A, where he hit .271 with 15 home runs. That equates to fringe-average production for an everyday first baseman. Carp bats from an open stance and can really go down and get the ball. His swing plane is flat and his bat speed is no better than average, though, so he's most effective hitting the ball gap to gap. An adequate defender at first base, Carp hasn't shown much aptitude for left field because he's a below-average runner and athlete. He has big league potential as a hitter, but his overall offensive package may not be enough to secure his future as a regular. He has two minor league options remaining, giving the Mariners flexibility as they sift through their options for 2010.
Noriega connected for his first four pro home runs in 2009, while improving his average by 73 points in a return to Rookie-level Pulaski. But his bat isn't what netted him an $800,000 bonus on the international market in 2007. An instinctual shortstop with the tools to play the position at the highest level, Noriega has an uncanny ability to slow the game down and make all the plays. He led all Appalachian League shortstops with a .960 fielding percentage last year. A smooth athlete but below-average runner, he features plus range and arm strength. Long-limbed and lanky, Noriega is a free swinger who sprays the ball to center and right field. A bat wrap limits the damage he inflicts to his pull side. Even the most optimistic power projection would peg him at well belowaverage, so he'll need to rein in the strikeouts and focus on situational hitting. Noriega will move up because of his fine defensive ability, but his low grades for power and speed limit his ceiling. He's ready for low Class A.
The first pick of the sandwich round in 2009, Baron eschewed a Duke scholarship to sign for $980,000. The Mariners skipped him past the Arizona League, challenging him with an assignment in the Appalachian League. Baron's bat didn't respond, but his catching skills worked fine. He shut down running games, flashing a crisp, plus-plus arm and leading Appy League catchers by throwing out 54 percent of basestealers. Baron had no trouble running a pro pitching staff at age 18, having called his own games in high school. He has soft hands, and he blocks and receives the ball expertly. But like Pulaski teammate Gabriel Noriega, Baron projects as a strong defensive player with a below-average bat. He has the strength to hit for average or better power, but his rhythmic swing and contact issues--especially against breaking balls--likely will result in lengthy slumps and poor batting averages. Still, if he reaches his ceiling as a catcher who hits .250 with 12-15 homers per year while stifling the running game, he would have a spot on most every big league club. Baron may not be ready to hit low Class A pitching, so he could open 2010 in extended spring before joining Everett in June.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik has drafted Texeira twice. As Brewers scouting director, he selected Texeira out of a Hawaii high school in the 31st round of the 2004 draft. Texeira declined to sign and turned pro with the White Sox after two years at Saddleback (Calif.) CC. Their paths intersected again in December, when the Mariners took Texeira from the Yankees in the major league Rule 5 draft. He'll have to stick on Seattle's roster all season, or else clear waivers and be offered back to the Yankees for $25,000. A strikeout pitcher who keeps the ball on the ground, Texeira could occupy a middle-relief role with the Mariners. Over the course of the past three seasons, he has fanned 8.6 batters per nine innings while generating 2.4 groundouts for every flyout--and he shows no platoon split. Texeira gets results with a deceptive short-arm delivery and a nifty 78-80 mph slider, which he fires repeatedly at the opposition. The pitch breaks sharply and dives toward the knees and ankles of lefthanders. His high-80s fastball features fair life and some sink from his high three-quarters slot. Like any sinker/slider reliever, Texeria gets hit when he leaves his pitches up and over the plate. He dusts off a low-80s changeup on occasion. While he's too homer-prone to work as closer or set-up man, he could have value in a lower-leverage role.
Working as a starter in his first three pro seasons, Orta showed strikeout stuff but struggled to prevent runs or work deep into games. A reliever in college at Miami, he thrived when he returned to that role full-time in 2009. He was a key cog in West Tenn's high-octane bullpen, which also featured Phillippe Aumont, Nick Hill, Josh Fields and Anthony Varvaro. Orta has plenty of velocity--he sits at 92-94 mph--but his out pitch is his 83 mph slider. It features late break and tilt, neutralizing lefties and righties. He loves throwing the slider, both early in the count for called strikes and then later as a chase pitch. Orta's delivery features a pause as he separates his hands over the rubber, which adds deception but slows his times to the plate. His breakthrough was interrupted by blisters that necessitated three trips to the disabled list. To make up for lost time, Orta pitched in the Arizona Fall League, where he continued to dominate and secured his place on the 40-man roster. He's poised for a role in the big league bullpen in 2010, though he may put in some Triple-A time first.
Poythress slugged 25 home runs as a Georgia junior in 2009, ranking him fifth in NCAA Division I. He also drove in 86 runs, erasing Gordon Beckham's single-season school record. He signed for $694,800 as the 51st overall pick, then reported to Double-A, as negotiated in his contract, after a tune-up in the Arizona League. Though Poythress didn't set the Southern League on fire, he showed the same polished approach from his amateur days. Power is his standout tool, and he generates it not with pure bat speed but with strength and leverage in a handsy swing. Because he controls the strike zone and doesn't try to pull everything, he ought to hit for a decent average. Some scouts who saw him in college wonder if his power will play against better velocity. Poythress dallied at third base in college, but his below-average range and fringy arm make him better suited for first base. He doesn't have much speed. Poythress figures to head back to Double-A on merit in 2010. He has the potential to develop into a regular, but his bat will have to carry him.
The Mariners' prized international acquisition last summer, Pimentel turned down the Rangers to sign with Seattle for $2 million in July. International scouts raved about his power, grading it as a potential future 70 tool on the 20-80 scouting scale. While he has yet to play in a pro game, he hit balls out to all fields during instructional league. His present strength in his hands and wrists is impressive, and his lean frame hints at even more muscle down the road. That's a scary thought because Pimentel's whip-quick bat already produces plus-plus bat speed and excellent loft. That power may not play initially due to his aggressive, unrefined approach in which he looks to yank everything to right field. He hits the ball hard and shows rare glimpses of using the opposite field, so he could hit for average once he matures--even with low contact rates. His value rests entirely with his bat, and his indifferent approach to defense would limit him to left field, first base or even DH. A well below-average runner, Pimentel shows poor instincts in the outfield whether he's fielding or throwing the ball. His arm is below average. With a good spring, he could make his pro debut in the Appalachian League.
Like No. 2 overall pick Dustin Ackley, Seager started for three years at North Carolina and was a major factor in the Tar Heels' three consecutive College World Series runs. Seager played second base as freshman and sophomore before shifting to third base in 2009. He signed for $436,500 as a third-round pick. He had open-heart surgery as a 2-year-old but has had no lingering health concerns. Seager's bat is his lone standout tool. He knows the strike zone and can hit all kinds of pitching. His smooth, balanced lefthanded swing produces line drives up the middle and to left field. With modest bat speed and a flat swing plane, he produces average power, specializing in doubles. A grinder with a thick lower half, he's a below-average runner whose future position likely will depend on the makeup of the club. Though his hands are fine, he doesn't have the thunder in his bat to profile as a true third baseman, and he lacks the athleticism to profile as an ideal second baseman. He also logged time at shortstop last summer, but he has no realistic future there. After holding his own in low Class A during his debut, Seager will begin 2010 at High Desert.
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