Now that full season baseball is upon us and the minor league rosters have been released, let's take a moment to locate and discuss some of Seattle's more notable prospects, starting with Seattle's class-A teams.
Clinton Lumberkings - Midwest League (A)
Steve Baron, C (19) - This is a pretty aggressive promotion for a teenager who hit just .179/.241/.292 in his debut with rookie level Pulaski, but the Mariners like him a lot and are going to push the 33rd overall pick in last year's draft. Pulaski and the Appalachian League was an aggressive assignment in itself for a high school player. Baron, as you know, is a defensive whiz kid who has a long way to come with the bat. Check out this high school highlight video for a good look at how the he moves behind the plate.
Dennis Raben, 1B (22) - If it weren't for the year layoff, I would have expected him to start off in High Desert, but this is a decent starting point for him as he returns from microfracture surgery in his knee. Raben looks like his old self in the spring videos I've seen and the reports are positive. Hopefully he can find his way back to the fast track he was expected to be on before he got hurt.
Nick Franklin, MIF (19) - The 27th overall pick last June, the only thing that will jump out at you with Franklin is his aggressive and gritty style of play. He counters his lack of obvious strengths by showing no glaring weaknesses. The switch hitter has a nice line drive stroke from both sides of the plate and plays solid defense up the middle. He'll likely see time at both shortstop and second base in 2010 after a good debut last season with Arizona and Everett.
Gabriel Noriega, SS (19) - The lanky shortstop has been getting a lot of traction nationally and is being considered one of Seattle's very best prospects, with Kevin Goldstein and John Sickels ranking him as high as #3. Noriega is known as a very good fielder already while his long and lean frame have some thinking he'll hit for a bit of power down the line. The switch hitter's swings are messy right now and will have to be cleaned up before he starts being viewed as a two way player. He put up nice numbers for Pulaski last season, but could have trouble repeating those numbers in 2010.
Mario Martinez, 3B (20) - After struggling his way out of the Midwest League last season, Martinez will get another crack at it this year. In 2009 he hit just .214/.264/.314 before being bumped back down to short season Everett, where he salvaged his season offensively. At age 20, the athletic third baseman has plenty of time. Martinez has a nice swing that he uses to hit line drives to all fields, and his physical tools suggest that he could hit for decent power.
James Jones, RF (21) - Primarily a pitching prospect leading up to the draft, the Mariners popped Jones in the 4th round as an outfielder, and so far they're looking like they made the right call. Jones had a very nice debut for Everett last summer and has gotten good reviews this spring. The lefty has very good physical tools. He runs well and is expected to fill out and add some real power. He has a pretty good approach at the plate, but the swing was a little sloppy in his debut. From what I've seen in the Cactus League and in other video, it looks like he's cleaned it up quite a bit. Jones has been tabbed as a sleeper by many and is quickly becoming a favorite among Mariner fans.
Tyler Blandford, RHP (22) - Many of us were frustrated by the Mariners' decision to pass on high upside pitching early in last June's draft. They didn't pick a pitcher until Blandford in 6th round, and even then they talked of him as a future reliever. I don't know if they plan on starting him this year, but he certainly profiles as a fast rising reliever, throwing hard but not always knowing where it's going. Blandford reminds a little bit of Brandon Morrow on the hill.
Watch List: 3B Vinnie Catricala, INF Shaver Hansen, OF Matt Cerione, LHP Jon Hesketh,
Clinton probably has the second most exciting collection of young talent of Seattle's four full season minor league teams. The Opening Day squad features five prospects that could be considered among Seattle's top 20, four of which fill the infield. The pitching staff lacks much upside beyond Blandford, and while there are some interesting arms there isn't really anyone that demands attention right away (from where I sit, anyway).
This team is pretty well stacked. If you're anywhere near a Midwest League town you would do well to watch this group play a few times.
High Desert Mavericks - California League (A Advanced)
Rich Poythress, 1B/DH (22) - It was assumed by many (me included) that Poythress would return to West Tenn after starting his pro career there last summer, but that was a lazy assumption given that he worked the assignment into his contract so he could play close to home. AA is a tough assignment right out of the gate for any college hitter, even one as good as Poythress. The 2nd rounder will have to work his way back there. Poythress swings from the right side, should walk a lot and has lots of power potential. Whether or not he'll hit for average as a pro is still to be determined. It's surprising how little you find that skillset out of a right handed hitter. Poythress will probably be compared to guys like Paul Konerko and John Jaha as he gets going, though he's bigger than both guys at 6'4/240.
Kyle Seager, 2B (22) -The 2009 3rd rounder is easy to lose track of because he won't wow you, but he does a lot of things right. Hitting from the left side, Seager has a nice level swing, a very good approach at the plate and makes a lot of contact. His defense at second base is a bit of a question mark after playing third base primarily for North Carolina, but he has the physical tools to make it work. He's one of many low-ish ceiling but high floor types picked up by Zduriencik in his first year.
Johermyn Chavez, OF (21) - Acquired in the Brandon Morrow trade, Chavez reminds me of a giant version of Jose Guillen. He has good raw power and a strong arm, but just about everything else is a work in progress. He has a long way to go with regards to pitch recognition, and is going to continue striking out a lot until he can figure out what a breaking ball looks like. Chavez found success in the pitcher friendly Midwest League last year (.821 OPS, 21 homers), but will have to make major improvements to keep that up as he moves up the ranks.
Maikel Cleto, RHP (21) - Cleto didn't have much of a chance to make a good first impression last season after being acquired from the Mets in the J.J. Putz-Franklin Gutierrez deal. He was stuck in the Dominican Republic for quite awhile along with many other prospects as part of an FBI led investigation trying to get a handle on all the fraudulent documentation coming out of there (or something like that. Shorten to "visa issues" if you'd like). When he finally did make it to the States he suffered various minor injuries. Hopefully 2010 will be more fruitful. Cleto throws easy heat, hitting the mid-high 90s with his fastball, and has flashed a promising changeup at times to go along with an erratic but interesting slider/slurve. He's raw, but he was considered the hidden gem among the minor leaguers of the Putz trade for a reason.
Watch List: RHP Kenn Kasparek, SS Juan Diaz, OF Denny Almonte, C Trevor Coleman, RHP Andrew Carraway, RHP Cheyne Hann
The "surprise" addition of Poythress makes this roster a whole lot more interesting. It will certainly be fun to see what kind of power numbers Poythress and Chavez put up in Adelanto following Alex Liddi, Joe Dunigan and Carlos Peguero's blistering campaigns last season. The pitching staff is also loaded with interesting arms, though not much star power.
It's nice to see two of Seattle's A-ball teams loaded with talent, Clinton more so than High Desert. They're not hording it, either. As we'll get to in a later post, AA West Tenn and AAA Tacoma have plenty of promising players on their own, and the short season clubs will have many players of interest as well. Beyond the 2010 draft product, short season rosters will be headlined perhaps by Julio Morban, Guillermo Pimentel and Jharmidy De Jesus, among many others. We'll have a similar post when short season rosters come out.