Last time out we took a look at a Clinton roster that yields all kinds of prospect depth but doesn't offer a ton of upside. The Mavs aren't as stacked but have two guys that might just knock your socks off, three that are of definite interest and a handful of others worth keeping in the back of your mind.
Nick Franklin leads the parade as the second best Mariner prospect still in the minors behind you know who. Most -- the supposedly informed and speculators alike -- expected Franklin to skip High Desert altogether but for now he'll play his home games in Adelanto, California. A couple possible explanations might be that the Mariners aren't ready to give up on Carlos Triunfel as a shortstop but want to see a little more out of his bat before promoting him to AAA, or (more likely) that they've simply decided not to take any chances by promoting Franklin too aggressively.
Franklin surprised even his biggest supporters with a .281/.351/.485 line and Clinton record 23 homers during his historic 2010, finishing the season ranked among the top prospects in baseball (#53 for Baseball America and Keith Law alike). All eyes will be on the switch hitter in 2011 as he tries to prove himself at the plate and in the field while continuing to smooth out the rough edges in his game.
How much power can we expect moving forward? I think his strength and lefty-swing will allow him to easily have above-average pop for his position but last season's power output was such a shock that it's easy to want further confirmation before buying in. Will he figure out how to hit lefties? As is often the case, Franklin's right-handed swing isn't as refined and it showed in the stats-- .149/.208/.246. Will he be able to remain at shortstop? Scouting reports and projections for his defense seem to be all over the map, with many scouting-types believing he's best suited to play second base. Obviously, the Mariners would rather have him stick at shortstop with Dustin Ackley penciled in as the second baseman for the next several years.
James Jones is the other top prospect with the Mavs after emerging as one of the most intriguing prospects in the system. Says Keith Law, who ranked him as baseball's 100th best prospect (linked above):
In 18 months in pro ball, Jones has shown himself to be a quick study, dramatically improving his pitch recognition and his reads in the outfield between spring training of 2010 and the second half of the year. He hit .205/.319/.364 before the All-Star Break, but .321/.387/.487 after it as he continued to make adjustments at the plate. He's one of the most athletic hitting prospects around with a plus-plus arm and easy power, even the other way, from good torque and hip rotation in his swing.
Jones hasn't yet figured out how to consistently get the ball in the air so look for his groundball numbers to come down before he begins to fully harness his power potential. Stater Bros. Stadium offers plenty of incentive to get the ball airborne, so perhaps the unusual hitting environment can help Jones where it sidetracks others.
Reliever Stephen Pryor isn't in the same class as Franklin and Jones but appears to be a class above anyone else on the roster. With a fastball that sits in the low-mid 90s and can scrape triple digits while being thrown with some semblance of control, Pryor is an ideal candidate to be groomed for a late-inning role with the big club. While his velocity is such that he doesn't have to develop a whole lot to be a useful Major League arm, he still has some work to do if he wants to reach his potential. He'll have to figure out how to repeat his delivery a little better in order to tighten up his command (his delivery is slightly funky) and his slider remains a bit of a work in progress. First he has to get healthy-- he's starting the season on the DL with some arm soreness.
Right-hander Yoervis Medina had a very nice season last year between Everett and Clinton with one spot start for Tacoma. He possesses two quality pitches in a fastball that sits in the low 90s and a very nice curveball. His build is one that had members of the Seattle media corps mistaking him for Felix Hernandez on multiple occasions during Spring Training. Given that body comp it's easy to dream of him becoming an innings eater in the back of the rotation. He has a ways to go before his changeup and command are up to snuff, but I like where he's at right now.
Dennis Raben missed the 2009 season recovering from microfracture surgery in his knee but had a nice comeback in 2010 split equally between Clinton (.221/.320/.450) and High Desert (.356/.413/.681). Still, Raben missed some time with knee soreness as well as some back issues, and he'll likely serve as a DH and first baseman this season and beyond. That hurts his value, and the setbacks may have us looking at him as more of a platoon player down the road, but he has enough thunder in his bat to keep me interested. I'll be looking for Raben to stay relatively healthy and keep hitting dingers while either bringing his strikeouts down or increasing his walks (or both).
The rest of the infield features a trio of others worth checking in on from time to time in corner infielder Vinnie Catricala, middle infielder Gabriel Noriega and third baseman Mario Martinez.
Catricala hit .302/.386/.488 with 17 homers and 41 doubles with Clinton in 2010 and might just have another big year in a friendlier hitting environment. Strikeouts are a big problem for him, however, and he's said to struggle with good velocity. Things won't be getting any easier for him so he'll constantly be trying to prove himself, but so far, so good.
Noriega was a hot pick following the 2009 season but struggled badly offensively this past season. He had to abandon switch hitting, couldn't handle good velocity, struggled with pitch recognition and plate discipline, and didn't make any real progress with his swing mechanics, leading him fall out of Mariner prospect rankings. His defensive abilities keep him on the radar, but right now he doesn't look like he'll live up to cracking Baseball Prospectus' top 100 for 2010.
Martinez has been a favorite of mine so I'll be keeping an eye on him this season even if he isn't quite worthy. He grades well in intangibles and has decent physical tools across the board but just hasn't shown anything with the bat over the past couple years. Hopefully he can get things kick started in a friendly hitting environment.
In the outfield, Danny Carroll and Denny Almonte are in the same boat as Noriega and Martinez, though to a lesser degree (in my opinion, at least). They were once promising and still have some tools that could catch your eye but probably aren't worth your time at this point.
Beyond Pryor and Medina the rest of the pitching staff is made up of guys with fringy stuff. That's good and bad. On the plus side, we'd probably rather not see many of our better pitching prospects having to deal with that environment. Unfortunately, that means Mavs fans are in store for a lot of long innings.
This squad is plenty interesting right now but could look a lot different before long. Those top five guys listed could all we worthy of a AA assignment sooner than later.