Opening Day rosters for the Seattle Mariners' full-season minor league affiliates began trickling in on Monday. Let's start at the bottom.
The Lumberkings have lost Nick Franklin and James Jones to promotions but feature a roster littered with interesting talent, including a few breakout candidates.
Behind the plate we have Steve Baron. The 33rd pick in the 2009 draft had been absolutely atrocious at the dish, enough so that many fans had already given up on him following his first full season in the system. We knew he was going to be a long-term prospect offensively given that his swing had to be torn down and rebuilt from head to toe, but sometimes it's hard to have patience and tolerance when these high school players face long odds to begin with.
Don't look now, but Baron had a great showing offensively this Spring Training, hitting .500 with a couple extra base hits during Cactus League play as well as a couple doubles off of Felix Hernandez in a B game. Ryan Divish's article on the adjustments he's made provides reasons for optimism heading into the new season. Hopefully his hot spring was a preview of things to come, though 2011 is hardly a make or break year for the 20 year old. His defense has always been his strong suit, so keep on eye on his batting line this year.
The two infielders to keep the closest eye on are middle infielder Marcus Littlewood and third baseman Ramon Morla. Littlewood, a 2010 second rounder who has yet to make his pro debut, has soft hands and great instincts in the field but his size had many doubting his ability to play shortstop at draft time. That he's listed as a second baseman is interesting even if I and others expect him to see time at both positions. At the plate he's a switch-hitter who showed a disciplined approach as an amateur and is thought to be capable of adding above-average power for the middle infield. As with any prep prospect making his first foray into pro ball, Littlewood is a bit of a mystery and will be fun to track. Just don't expect a Nick Franklin explosion.
Morla jumped onto the prospect radar with a big season for Pulaski after doing nothing stat-wise in his first three years with the Mariners. Here's some of what Conor Glassey had to say over the summer (Baseball America subscription required):
Morla has a balanced swing with good bat speed and the ball really jumps off his barrel.
In the second game on Aug. 6, Morla obliterated a fastball from Burlington righthander Willian Avinazar about 450 feet to center field. It was a missile that looked like it was still rising as it sailed over the center field fence, 405 feet from home plate, just left of the batters eye.
In addition to his tools, Morla plays hard and shows aggressive instincts on the bases. He was also the player coming to the mound when either Mieses or Vargas needed calming down.
Morla's power is legit and he seems capable of sticking at third base, but keep an eye on his walks and strikeouts this season.
Mickey Wiswall is regarded as a brutal defender at third but could see time at both infield corners following a very nice debut with Clinton-- .301/.331/.493 in 33 games. He's going to swing and miss a lot and didn't show much regard for the strike zone in his first go-round, but there is enough left-handed power there to keep me interested. Stefen Romero will also be in the corner infield mix and could be someone to keep an eye on after leaving Oregon State with a decent approach and some pop. Third base probably isn't in the cards long-term, however, which stacks the deck against him.
All three outfielders are worth tracking this season. Julio Morban is one of the most talented players in the entire organization but hasn't been able to stay on the field through various injuries, managing just ten regular season games last season. His rotator cuff has let him down the most, but he's had some other issues as well. When healthy, Morban has a sweet lefty swing, a knack for squaring up the baseball, above-average power and good speed, but it means nothing unless he can keep himself healthy. That he's listed among only three true outfielders after being forced to DH much of the last two seasons is encouraging.
Kevin Rivers still faces an uphill climb but put himself on the radar with a monster season in Everett after going undrafted in 2009. A line of .370/.474/.587 from the left side of the plate? Yes please. A high BABIP and wide home/away splits are reasons for skepticism, as discussed here, but it was a nice season nonetheless and he makes for a good story. I'm pulling for him. If you're interested, Conor put together an interesting Q&A with him back in February.
Matt Cerione figures to get most of the run in center field where he's regarded as a good defender. Strikeouts are a major problem for him and contributed to a tough 2010 season, but a red hot August to end the year helped keep him interesting-- .427/.566/.827 with 7 of his 12 homers.
The pitching staff carries a lot of intrigue. Local boy Forrest Snow looked to be on the fast-track as a reliever last season but is moving back to the rotation as Clinton's Opening Day starter. Snow provided a scouting report for himself in a January interview with Mikey Schwartz:
As for the scouting report, three pitch mix, fastball anywhere from 90 to 95, changeup with good depth and speed differential around 75, and a curveball I've just learned how to locate down in the zone. I've started messing around with a slider, but that's still in the works.
George Mieses was on the radar heading into last year but really established himself as a prospect with a solid showing in Pulaski. The beastly right-hander throws strikes with his low-mid 90s four seamer and had his splitter flashing as a knockout pitch. The development of a third pitch will be something to watch for this season.
Lefty Anthony Fernandez and right-hander Seon Gi Kim are a couple guys with limited upside but enough stuff and feel to stick in the middle or (more likely) back of the rotation as they move up the ladder. Left-hander Edlando Seco has a wipeout slider but little idea how to find the strike zone, so it'll be interesting to see how his season goes. He has a 9.2 K/9 over 178 pro innings to go with a 6.2 BB/9.
Tyler Blandford was thought to be a fast-track reliever coming out of the 2009 draft but he spent the 2010 season making seven starts for Clinton. With a power fastball and promising slider, Blandford struck out 26 and allowed just 24 hits over 27 innings. But ... he also walked 25. More walks than hits! I'm not sure if he'll return to the rotation or head for the 'pen this season.
Ty Burgoon served as Everett's closer during their championship run last season and is one of the more notable pure-relief prospects in the organization. He struck out 15 and walked four in 14.1 regular season innings during his Everett debut and has the stuff to make his stay in Iowa a short one. He's a small guy with big arm and a bulldog mentality, making him a little more fun to root for.
This should be one of the most interesting teams to track in the Mariners system. There's a little bit of upside there, but what the team lacks in blue chippers it makes up for with sheer volume. Opening day is Thursday.
If you're looking for more information on any of the players above, there's a decent chance you'll find it here.