Mike Hessman, Minors Home Run Leader, Retires
The greatest home run hitter the domestic minor leagues have ever seen has decided that 19 seasons is enough. First baseman/third baseman Mike Hessman, the U.S. minor league career home […]
Top Ten Prospects: Seattle Mariners
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Jim Callis
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.
Bill Bavasi's second year on the job as Seattle general manager wasn't much better than the first. After the Mariners bottomed out in 2004 by going 63-99—their first last-place finish since 1992 and worst record since 1983—they didn't stand pat. Attempting to upgrade the American League's worst offense, they committed $114 million to free agents Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson.
Sexson performed as expected in 2005, but Beltre was a disappointment and so were the Mariners again. They scored one more run than they did in 2004 and went 69-93, finishing in the cellar in consecutive years for the first time ever. Seattle's record-tying 116-win season in 2001 seems much more distant than five years in the past.
There were a few silver linings, almost all of them provided by the farm system. Ultrahyped Felix Hernandez lived up to his billing and more, becoming one of the best pitchers in the major leagues the instant he set foot in Seattle on Aug. 4. Ten of his 12 outings were quality starts, and he finished 4-4, 2.67 with 77 strikeouts in 84 innings. And he did all that at age 19.
After hitting .327 in the minors and .397 in a September 2004 callup, Jeremy Reed batted a soft .254. But he proved he could more than handle center field at Safeco Field, which had been in question, and his bat should come around. Yuniesky Betancourt signed in January and reached Seattle in July. Multiple veteran scouts called him the best defensive shortstop they ever had seen, and he's the best the Mariners have had since Omar Vizquel in the early 1990s.
The bad news, as if there already wasn't enough in Seattle, is that the system can't offer any more immediate hope. A series of poor drafts has caught up to the Mariners, who forfeited four first-round picks and failed to sign another (John Mayberry Jr., who went to Stanford and became the 19th overall choice in 2005) from 2000-04. Their decision to take Michael Garciaparra 36th overall in 2001, after he barely played as a high school senior because of a football knee injury, remains one of the most puzzling choices in recent draft history. Signed for $2 million, Nomar's little brother has yet to rise above high Class A.
Since taking Alex Rodriguez with the No. 1 overall pick in 1993, the Mariners have drafted and signed exactly two players who performed well in the majors in 2005. Those two, Jason Varitek (first round, 1994) and Brian Fuentes (25th round, 1995), were traded before they were big league-ready and didn't blossom until after they left Seattle.
If not for their efforts on the international market, the Mariners' situation would be far worse. They signed Hernandez out of Venezuela and Betancourt after he defected from Cuba. Five of their top eight prospects come from five different nations: catcher Kenji Johjima (Japan), outfielder Chris Snelling (Australia), infielder Asdrubal Cabrera (Venezuela), righthander Emiliano Fruto (Colombia) and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo (Korea).
Seattle hasn't made many upgrades this offseason. Signing Johjima
filled a hole, but Bavasi's next free-agent move was to get Carl Everett
for a club that already has several outfield options. Giving Jarrod
Washburn a four-year, $37.5 million contract may prove overly generous,
and adding Matt Lawton brought in another veteran outfielder on the
decline. A third-straight last-place finish looms as a distinct possibility.
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