Friday, January 22, 2010

TEAM #11 – Seattle Mariners

Ackley could quickly become one of the games top offensive threats

With the Seattle Mariners coming in at #11, our series is now two thirds of the way complete—leaving only the Top 10 Organizations. We will be speeding up our release on these a bit, releasing five teams per week over the next two weeks, in order to begin our Top 300 countdown on February 10th. Back to the Mariners…The Mariners are a team that is finally—long overdue, undergoing both a management and philosophy change. For years the Mariners had been one of the most aggressive organizations in signing premium Latin American talent. Unfortunately, the player development side of the house was clueless—pushing these high-ceiling prospects through the lower minors at breakneck speeds…until they found a level where they failed. And fail they did, as they found themselves completely overmatched, posted horrendous results, and were doing nothing to further their development. The draft side of the house was perhaps more puzzling, as at one point last season, the previous three #1 draft choices were all being groomed as closers. Then to top things off, there was the Erik Bedard trade, where the Mariners dealt two quality bullpen arms and the best two prospects produced by their system in years (Adam Jones and Chris Tillman) for what is likely to end up as 30 starts. Enter Jack Zduriencik, and perhaps more importantly long-time prospect guru Tony Blengino—who is one of the longest running performance analysts in baseball. The efforts bore immediate fruit, as the Mariners easily had their best draft of the last three years. Now we will have to see how it translates to the development curve because they have a big mess to clean up in that area. Additionally, the system has a tremendous dearth of pitching talent, as only six of their top 33 prospects are pitchers. On the positive side, there is a lot of high ceiling talent to work with here, and a surprising amount of depth. Improvements in the player development area could pay immediate returns.

Grade A

1) Dustin Ackley, CF/2B –

Ackley was clearly the best position player available in the 2009 draft and the Mariners wasted little time selecting him with the #2 overall pick. Ackley immediately jumps to near the top of the list of ‘sweetest swings’ in the Minors. What impresses us even more, is the way that he steps up in big games and against big competition, as in his final 10 games in the ACC playoffs and College World Series, Ackley posted a .511/.569/.911 with 5 home runs. While there are questions about his overall power ceiling, he should produce average power for a Major League OF—and above average if he plays CF or 2B. Ackley is athletically gifted, possesses above average speed, is one of the Minors best contact hitters, also possessing plus plate discipline. While, coming off of Tommy John surgery, he played first base his final year at North Carolina, he is likely to end up at either CF or, if the Mariners’ experiment proves fruitful, second base. The closest player comp that we find is Darin Erstad, but his ceiling is even higher than Erstad. Additionally, this is a high floor player who at the very minimum will hit for average at the next level. We expect that the Mariners will start him out at High Desert, but Ackley should spend the bulk of his time in 2010 at AA.

2) Alex Liddi, 3B (2009 Performance Scores – Power 74; First Base Rate 58; Discipline 45; Speed 56)

We have been ahead of the curve on Liddi, and even though the rest of the baseball world appears to be catching up, we still believe in him more than most. The typical point of disparity is the fact that Liddi posted a .683 OPS for two seasons at Wisconsin (MWL) and then suddenly posted a 1.005 OPS in 2009, aided by one of the most hitter friendly environs in baseball and supported by a .422 BABIP. Make no mistake, 2009 was a breakout year for Liddi, but when analyzing those numbers one has to look a little deeper, as, playing at Wisconsin, Liddi was playing in one of the Minor’s least hitter friendly parks in the least hitter friendly league, and Liddi did post an .855 OPS with a .412 BABIP in his debut season. In fact, both in 2007 and in 2008 he did post Top 15 Performance Scores in the MWL, and Liddi had been on our radar since the Mariners signed him in 2005. More importantly, coming from Italy, Liddi was an extremely raw talent that is just now beginning to put it all together. At 6’4”, 175lbs, there is still significant projection left in the 21yo and he has an excellent work ethic. He is still rather slight, and should add more muscle and power, eventually becoming an above average power hitter. He has a smooth swing that provides above average contact, and while still a work in process, his plate discipline should eventually be an average skill. Defensively, while there remains some fear that he will outgrow the position as he fills out—possessing only adequate footwork, he has soft hands and plenty of arm to stay at 3B—a rare commodity among minor league third base prospects. His biggest weaknesses are marginal speed, and a very raw ability for pitch recognition—which did improve in the second half of 2009. Liddi has the upside of an above average Major League thirdbaseman, and should continue to make converts in AA in 2010.

Grade B+

3) Michael Saunders, OF (2009 – Power 75; First Base Rate 54; Discipline 50; Speed 49)

While a solid prospect, Saunders, likely due to the dearth of premium talent, has been promoted by the Mariners as one of baseball’s elite for a couple of seasons now. This led to his 2009 Big League call-up—which ended disastrously. Saunders does have above average power skills, and pretty much average skills across the board. There is the potential of an everyday Major League outfielder here. However, the ceiling isn’t exceptionally high, and he still strikes out far too frequently (22% in 2009) to guarantee success. The expectation is that he spend considerable time in 2010 in Seattle, and may not see the Minors again if he can make the roster this spring, giving him a strong certainty factor.

4) Michael Pineda, RHP (2009 – Dominance 75; Stamina 61; HRrate 48; Control 77)

After finishing with the #5 Performance Score in the MWL in 2008, Pineda was dominating CAL hitters before elbow soreness pretty much ended his season. If it weren’t for the elbow concerns, he would rate higher on this list. Possessing a huge 6’5”, 250lb frame, Pineda casts an imposing figure on the mound. He couples that with a low 90s fastball and above average secondary offerings that he commands exceptionally well. Pineda has the potential to be a dominating #2 starter. Providing he is healthy, expect the Mariners to move the barely 21yo to AA to begin 2010.

5) Carlos Triunfel, SS/3B? –

Triunfel is one of the poster boys for the over-aggressive development approach of its Latin American prospects that we spoke about. Fortunately/unfortunately the Mariners were forced to slow down their approach with him when he missed nearly the entire 2009 season with a broken fibula—not an insignificant injury to a middle infielder. Never being tremendously fleet of foot to begin with, there are now concerns as to where he is likely to play—with third base seemingly the logical option. Stockily built, Triunfel has a quick bat and aggressive approach that allows him to spray the ball around the diamond. Unfortunately, his power is likely to remain below average to average, and his strike zone management skills are also below average. As a shortstop, his ceiling is considerable, but we are not sure that his bat will play at third base. When 2010 begins, he will still be only 20yo…and already in AA.

6) Adam Moore, C (2009 – Power 56; First Base Rate 62; Discipline 56; Speed32)

With the departure of Kenji Johjima, and Rob Davis recovering from off-season surgery, Moore has a prime opportunity to open the season on the Big League roster—perhaps even in the starting lineup. That makes his certainty score rather high. Which is a good thing, because Moore isn’t a high-ceiling guy—favored more for his lack of weaknesses than his plusses. Excepting speed—of which there is none, Moore has average skills across the board. Defensively, Moore has improved significantly over the last couple of seasons to where he now shows above average catch and throw skills, as well as a penchant for calling a solid game. While we don’t expect any all-star appearances, Moore has the upside of an average to slightly below everyday Major League backstop.

Grade B

7) Julio Morban, OF (2009 – Power 75; First Base Rate 23; Discipline 35; Speed 58)

We rated Morbon as the top position player signed out of Latin America in 2008. The Mariners thought highly enough of him to allow him to debut in the APY, before spending most of the season in the AZL as a 17yo, where he posted the #7 Performance score in the League. With plus power potential, and a precocious hitting approach, there is significant upside here, but a lot of work to be done, as he walked only 7 times in over 170 PAs—while fanning 51 times. Defensively Morban possesses above average coverage skills, but a merely adequate arm may lead to an eventual move to LF. Morban will begin the season as an 18yo, and we expect the new regime to have him make his 2010 debut in short-season ball.

8) Guillermo Pimentel, OF

The Mariners top signing ($2 million) from their 2009 Latin American efforts, Pimentel ranked #3 on our pre-July 2nd list. Pimentel possesses plus power potential and an advanced hitting approach. The downside is that he has only corner outfield speed, and lacks the arm to play right field, setting the bar a bit higher. Additionally, he struggled through most of the spring with nagging injuries—dissuading teams like the Yankees that had been previously been linked to him. Like Morbon above, expect the Mariners to send him to the AZL in 2010.

9) Johermyn Chavez, RF (2009 – Power 76; First Base Rate 48; Discipline 37; Speed 52)

Acquired in the trade that sent Brandon Morrow to the Blue Jays, Chavez possesses a ton of upside and one of the minors most chiseled physiques. The Blue Jays had been touting Chavez since signing him in 2005, but it wasn’t until his breakout 2009 where he looked ready to fulfill his potential. Possessing plus power, solid speed and a strong arm, Chavez’s ceiling is that of a power hitting everyday Major League right fielder. If he is to reach that, however, he is going to have to learn to better recognize and lay-off the breaking balls. Chavez will play 2010 at High Desert, where his power could put up huge home run totals.

10) Greg Halman, CF (2009 – Power 77; First Base Rate 22; Discipline 20; Speed 51)

Coming off of a breakout 2008, big things were expected out of Halman…especially since he was returning to West Tennessee where he had posted an .813 the season before. Sadly, it was not to be, as Halman pressed for most of the season, and his return trip led to a .697 OPS and a Minor League leading 191 strikeouts. There is no doubting his upside, nor his plus-plus power potential, but there are huge questions about his plate approach that must be resolved if he is ever going to achieve success. Defensively, he grades out as an above average centerfielder with adequate speed and a powerful arm. Still just 22yo, look for Halman to return to AA—for a third go-round in 2010, with the results going a long way to determining his future.

11) Dan Cortes, RHP (2009 – Dominance 56; Stamina 68; HRrate 49; Control 25)

Acquired from Kansas City in the Mariner’s dump of Betancourt, Cortes biggest issues are seemingly between his ears. Cortes started the season as one of a very promising group of young Royal arms, but disputes between team officials and he/his management group as to how he was being developed led to him being sent home. Finally a mid-summer arrest led to the Royals washing their hands of a very live arm. With a low-90s fastball and a solid curve, Cortes has a floor of a solid back of the bullpen guy. The Mariners, however, hope that he can develop his change to a viable pitch and remain in the rotation. His command at this point remains considerably deficient. There is significant upside here, and if it weren’t for the off-the-field issues that kept him off the field, Cortes would likely rank higher. The concerns between make-up and command are significant though. At 23yo, and already having repeated AA, we expect the Mariners to promote him—ready or not, to begin 2010, where he will have to work on answering those concerns.

12) Nick Franklin, SS –

Franklin had been hanging around the second round range for most of the spring, before an outstanding performance at Sebring vaulted him to #28 on our draft day list. The Mariners took him at #27. Our attraction to Franklin was that, outside of Jio Mier, we felt that he was the only prep shortstop on the board that was likely to both stay at shortstop and hit enough to make the Major Leagues. Franklin is often compared to Aaron Hill, but we don’t see anything more than below average power here. He will make solid contact though and his athleticism and lateral quickness should make-up for a fringy arm. It is likely that he will begin 2010 in full-season A-ball.

13) Gabriel Noriega, SS (2009 – Power 54; First Base Rate 57; Discipline 33; Speed 51)

The Mariners have signed a lot of Latin American shortstop prospects over the last few years, but none of them show the glovework of Noriega. With excellent instincts, soft-hands, great footwork, and a plus arm, Noriega is the complete defensive package. He’ll need it too, because it his offensive skills that will determine whether or not we see his defense at the Big League level. On the positive side, as an 18yo in the APY in 2009, he did post a Top 20 Performance score, showing solid contact skills, and even more power than we would have predicted. With a very questionable bat, the upside here is limited, but much like the development path that Alcides Escobar took for the Brewers, Noriega will be afforded many opportunities for his offense to develop solely on the basis of his exceptional glove. The Mariners face an interesting dilemma in determining where both Noriega and Nick Franklin will play in 2010.

14) Mauricio Robles, LHP (2009 – Dominance 72; Stamina 68; HRrate 48; Control 33)

Acquired by the Mariners in the Jarrod Washburn trade, the diminutive Robles immediately became the top left-hander in the system. Robles best pitch is a late-moving, low-90s, fastball. His secondary offerings remain works in process, although he achieved amazing success on the diamond in 2009, posting the #4, #5 and #5 Performance Scores in stops in the MWL, FSL and CAL. A lack of repeatability—and hence lack of command, remains his biggest weakness. While there isn’t a significant upside here, Robles will play the 2010 season as a 21yo in AA.

Grade B-

15) Rich Poythress, 1B (2009 – Power 28; First Base Rate 73; Discipline 28; Speed 37)

Poythress spent most of the Spring being considered a certain first round selection, however he disappeared late in the season—causing his stock to plummet. We had him as the #27 talent on draft day—going to Seattle in the first round. The Mariners opted for Franklin instead, and found Poythress still there in round #2. A sound defender, Poythress lacks the pure power skills usually associated with first base, but does possess a polished hitting approach that could eventually produce average power. The Mariners thought enough of Poythress to send him to AA after signing—where he struggled and showed uncharacteristically poor strike zone management skills. This isn’t a high upside player, but one who should produce enough offensively to have a solid major league career as a part-time player, or even a starter on a second-division team. Look for him to return to AA to start 2010.

16) Josh Fields, RP (2009 – Dominance 71; Stamina 25; HRrate 49; Control 23)

Another in the long line of examples of why to fear prospects with protracted contract holdouts, Fields had a clear opportunity to make his way to Seattle in 2009 and didn’t come close to delivering. Already 24yo, there isn’t a lot of remaining projection here, and while he certainly has demonstrated the knack of striking guys out, his command remains a big issue. With a mid-90s heater and a plus curve (when he controls it), Fields will make it or fail as a back of the bullpen guy. While he could develop into a closer, we are going to have to find more out of an already polished product. He’ll likely begin 2010 in AAA, but is really expecting to be in Seattle at some point in 2010.

17) Mario Martinez, 3B (2009 – Power 46; First Base Rate 29; Discipline 57; Speed 44)

Another of the Latin American shortstop prospects signed by the Mariners, Martinez has already moved off that position and is becoming a plus defender at third base. Coming off a solid 2008, where he posted the #8 Performance score in the APY, the Mariners aggressively promoted the then 19yo to full-season A-ball where he proved to be considerably over-matched. Once short-season play began, they sent him to the NWL, where he once again posted the #8 Performance Score. Still very raw offensively, Martinez shows potential for plus power and average contact and strike zone management skills. Despite being young for the Leagues, has kept his strikeout rate at a playable 20%, but will have to continue to make improvements as he moves up the ladder. The upside here is that of an average, everyday, Major League third baseman with an above average glove, although the more likely outcome may be that of an extremely capable reserve. He’ll get a return trip to full-season A-ball in 2010.

18) Mike Carp, 1B (2009 – Power 62; First Base Rate 61; Discipline 34; Speed 30)
Carp remains one of the most unsung players in the Minors, as he has consistently posted performances that indicate Major League success at almost every stop he has made. At 23yo and already Big League ready, Carp looked poised to assume the everyday first base job with the Mariners this year before they signed Casey Kotchman. As is, he is still better than even money to earn a roster spot this spring. The knock against Carp is that he is limited to a first base role, and doesn’t have traditional first base power skills. Carp does however possess above average contact skills, and we still believe, given the opportunity, he has the ceiling of a Mark Grace type player.

19) Erasmo Ramirez, RHP (2009 – Dominance 77; Stamina 80; HRrate 50; Control 78)

Understanding full well that the Venezuelan Summer League (VSL) is about the lowest rung on the ladder of professional baseball, Ramirez improved upon his 2008 #4 Performance Score, to post the Top Performance score in the League and earn MVP honors in 2009. At 5’11, 180lbs, possessing little more than a 90MPH fastball, the scouts aren’t going to fall in love with this kid, but any level that you can fan 80 in 88 innings—while walking only 5, should get you noticed. Ramirez will make his U.S. debut this summer, where the 19yo will have to work on developing his secondary offerings, but he already shows precocious pitchability and excellent command. Not a tremendous upside, but someone who could be a nice addition at the back of a Big League rotation.

Grade C+ Prospects –

20) Ezequiel Carrera, CF; 21) Dennis Raben, OF; 22) Steve Baron, C; 23) Jharmidy DeJesus, 3B; 24) Shawn Kelley, RP; 25) Matt Tuiasosoppo, 3B; 26) Juan Diaz, SS; 27) Kyle Seager, 3B; 28) James Jones, RF; 29) Joe Dunigan, 1B; 30) Edilio Colina, 2B; 31) Vincent Catricala, 3B; 32) Jose Rivero, CF; 33) Tommy Everidge, 1B; 34) Gaby Hernandez, RHP; 35) Jochy Ogando, RHP; 36) George Mieses, RHP; 37) Efrain Nunez, RF; 38) Jose Valdivia, RP.

Grade C Prospects –

Denny Almonte; Tyler Blandford; Andres Brito; Andrew Carraway; Daniel Carroll; Maikel Cleto; Nick Czyz; Anthony Fernandez; Shaver Hansen; Steven Hensley; Jon Hesketh; Ambioris Hidalgo; Nick Hill; John Housey; Kenn Kasparek; Matt Mangini; Brandon Maurer; James McOwen; Alfredo Morales; Carlos Peguero; Anthony Phillips; Ivan Ramirez; Jose Rios; Taylor Stanton; Kanekoa Texiera; Jean Tome; Anthony Varvaro.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season. For additional information on our rankings methodology, see our recent Mailbag article here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions.

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