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Farm Report Card – Part II

Posted by Jason A. Churchill on May 28, 2006

The overall grade of the M's farm system began with a low C/high D. Some ask why, and the answer is simple. Lack of talent, it's really that cut and dry. They have areas that are weaker than others, such as the starting pitching and power hitting departments, but even systems that are overloaded with one or the other get high grades for overall talent.

Where the Mariner regain a little ground is where their talent lies – up the middle.

There aren't many clubs in baseball that boast the prospects at catcher that the M's do. Jeff Clement leads the way but Rob Johnson isn't far behind and the club should have two legit major league ready catchers on their hands by 2008.

Asdrubal Cabrera, Matt Tuiasosopo, Oswaldo Navarro and now Jeffrey Dominguez provide the organization with a lot of depth at shortstop and second base. And don't look now but Michael Garciaparra is opening a few eyes in Tacoma.

He's never going to be an all-star, but he may be a more gifted version of Willie Bloomquist in a year or two.

On with the next five report cards —

Rob Johnson was drafted for his defense. He wasn't scouted as a middle-of-the-order bat or a speedster to wreak havoc on the bases. He's a catcher with athletic ability, a rare tool for the position.

He split last season between Wisconsin and Inland Empire and was impressive at both stops. But instead of the natural next step, the Mariners sent the 22-year-old to Triple-A Tacoma to begin the 2006 season.

"I think it's awesome," said Johnson during the first homestand of the year. "I think it's good for both the player and the team. It gives them an idea of how good we really are and it gives us a quicker incentive to produce, it really challenges players."

Johnson is faring alright in the PCL, but after a recent 3-for-24 slump has sunk to .243 in 33 games. Offensively, he may end up batting under .240 for the year, but the club cares very little about his final numbers.

"We want to see him develop," said catching guru Roger Hansen. "The offense will show up at some point, but with catchers that can take a little longer than with other positions. It sounds like an excuse, but Rob is so inexperienced that it really fits his situation."

"I expect him to get better every day," said hitting coach Terry Pollreisz. "He's just got a lot to learn and with him here (instead of in AA or A+), it's going to look like he's struggling a little more than he really is."

Defensively, he's been inconsistent at blocking balls in the dirt and even had a bout with pitches bouncing off his glove. He had five passed balls in 15 days.

"He's going to have some good days and some bad days," said Hansen. "Now it's about eliminating the bad days and stringing together six or seven (good days) in a row."

While Johnson hasn't turned himself into a blue-chipper by any stretch, he certainly hasn't scared off any scouts with his early returns.

"The fact that he's got less than two years in the pros and he's in AAA is good sign," said an AL scout and former big-league catcher. "He's what, 22? He's hitting a little and learning a lot, and there's a lot he wouldn't be learning if he were down a level. It doesn't bother me a bit that he's not hitting a whole lot. It would be a big bonus if he was, a huge plus, but it doesn't detract just because he isn't. He's not supposed to, yet."

Defense: C+

Offense: C-

Development: B

Stock: Holding

Asdrubal Cabrera is becoming a bit of a cult favorite in the fandom of the Seattle Mariners. He's got 95 percent the defensive skill as Yuniesky Betancourt and a chance to be better offensively, which is the exciting part.

One scout has no doubts that Cabrera will outhit Betancourt at the next level.

"You can really see that he understands how to hit," he said of Cabrera. "I haven't seen a lot of him up here (AAA), but he's drawing walks, keeping his bad at-bats to a minimum and he'll sting a pitch now and then. He could play in the majors right now, but another year or so down here and he'll push for a job."

Cabrera's goals are to stay consistent, and "estancia detras al romper bolas" , which apparently translates to "staying back on breaking balls." I'll just trust Guillermo Quiroz on that one.

Cabrera also stated that he thinks he can hit a few home runs, but has to stay away from thinking along those lines.

"If I try to hit home runs I will just fly out a lot," said Cabrera. "I'm not that kind of hitter. It would be fun to hit 30, 40 homers but I can't do that. I have to try and hit line drives. Like Jose Lopez."

The organization would also like to see Cabrera just stay healthy all year and head into next season with a chance to put up some exciting offensive numbers.

News Flash: He's got a head start on 2007.

Cabrera is well on his way to being an above average major leaguer.

Defense: A

Offense: A-

Development: A-

Stock: Up

Shin-soo Choo was a disappointment in 2005. He'd fallen off the momentum wagon with a tough first half in Tacoma where he hit under .260 and was piling up the poor at-bats, particularly versus left-handed pitching.

He's been very, very solid ever since.

Choo is currently hitting .290/.361/.419 with five homers and 13 steals. He's hit in the leadoff spot for Tacoma all season long, giving them a steady performance from day one.

"He's not a prototypical leadoff guy," said manager Dave Brundage. "But he does well there and it's not a bad thing that your leadoff hitter has some power. He really sets the tone for us."

Pollreisz offers a funny, but candid opinion on Choo's future:

"I think he's going to hit, but he may not excite everyone with 30 home runs. He isn;t the big bruting type that can go up there every time and swing for the fences. His home runs will come with consistency and as he learns to maximize his opportunities to put his best swing on a pitch. He's not going to hit home runs on accident. Choo isn't accident prone."

Defense: B

Offense: B

Development: B

Stock: Slightly Up

Bobby Livingston and Travis Blackley have a lot in common. They both are 23 years of age, they each throw left-handed and both of them are from the south – sorta.

Livingston was born in St. Louis and grew up in Lubbock, Texas. Blackley was raised in the semi-rural outback down in Australia.

Livingston's 2006 season was interupted by the stupidity of the organization, where manager Mike Hargrove used him in relief, and should be drawn and quartered for his treatment of the 23-year-old.

After joining the Mariners on April 20, Livingston pitched all of 4 2/3 innings in 20 days. [Mike Hargrove, please get the hell out of town. You disgust me and I'm ashamed that you are the manager of my hometown team. Do you not know a single thing about baseball? You abused a rookie pitcher in so many ways that Goran and Eems called their buddies Stabler and Benson to track you down and put you away. You're a joke. A bad joke.]

Anyways…

Livingston hasn't been the same since that debacle and while it's all Hargrove's fault, all Bobby can do it put it behind him.

He was leading the PCL in ERA at the time of his promotion and still sports a lot of strong numbers across the board, but his rythmn was disturbed, as was the finishing touches of his development. Thanks, Mike, you freaking (expletive).

Control/Command: B-

Pitch Development: B-

Overall development: B

Stock: Holding

Blackley's season has gone very different. He's spent the first two months in the heat of San Antonio and the rest of the Texas League, rehabbing from shoulder surgery.

His numbers aren't great, but they certainly aren't bad, either. I'm just going to drop hammer on this one right away.

I believe Blackley will get back to where he was pre-injury by spring of 2007, if not sooner. He's 60 percent back already, if not 75 percent. His velocity has been surprisingly consistent, sitting 84-87 for the most part – just 2-3 mph off his norm.

His secondary pitches are still fighting their way back but Blackley is feeling great, pitching tough and his midset is perfect.

He's allowed 50 hits in 57 1/3 innings and walked just 17. He's fanned just 31, but he's never been a strikeout pitcher. I do believe his K rates will rise once he's fully regained his form.

Control/Command: C+

Pitch Development: B-

Overall Development: B

Stock: Up

Sunday Evening: Nos 11-20 – Yorman Bazardo, Ryan Feierabend, Oswaldo Navarro, Stephen Kahn, Mark Lowe, Robert Rohrbaugh, Emiliano Fruto, Wladimir Balentien, Justin Thomas, Bryan LaHair.

Photo: Jason A. Churchill

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34 Responses to “Farm Report Card – Part II”

  1. Goose said

    Seen Cabrera in person today at Cheney.And I gotta say, defensivly he’s good.Damn good.Not Betancourt good, but the next step down.Has some power too.I can’t remember if it was him or Jones but one of them hit a ball that was 6 inches from going out of the park in left center or so.Not only that but he just scorched a double into the gap.

    Fun to watch.Once he’s ready, I say get rid of Betancourt.I’m sold on this guy as our SS of the future(if he doesn’t get traded of course)

  2. It was Cabrera. Jones went 0-fer.

  3. Goose said

    Oh a note about Jones.Around the third or the 4th he horribly misjudged a fly ball that should of been a routine out but instead dropped for a hit.But then two innings later he made a fantasic running play.

    Jones swings like he’s trying to destroy the ball every time.At least thats how I saw it from my vantage point.Practily comes out of his shoes.As Jeff put it “he doesn’t fuck around”

  4. Nothing new, Goose, on either front.

    He still makes mistakes in the field yet will dazzle in the same sense.

    And he doesn’t ALWAYS swing for the downs, but on occasion he sees a pitcher he thinks he should own and swings accordingly.

  5. Goose said

    I know.It’s just the first time I got to see these guys in person and I’m still a little excited.I gotta say, If I lived closer to Tacoma, I would go everyday.Like I said, fun to watch.

  6. You have a free ticket anytime, too. Just so ya know.

  7. StandinPat said

    I know Cabrera isnt the swiftest runner out there, but wont he be an ideal #2 hitter. LH, for most at bats, developing patience high OBP with some pop. He isnt gonna clog up the basepaths either. If you could put him #2 I think that makes him alot more valuable than Betancourt who pretty much ahs to hit 8th or 9th even if his def is slightly better.

  8. J said

    I remember that Jones play where he should’ve caught it, and it looked like he was stretching or just slipped around the time the bat cracked, so he had to play it on a hop despite it being a fairly easy out.

  9. Yeah, I think Jones just lost his footing. Don’t think it was a matter of him misjudging the fly ball.

  10. 1996Coug said

    Trade Betancourt? The guy’s out third best hitter right now and plays other world defense. I think he’s just getting started. He’s not Alex, but it seems to me he’ll hit better than projected. Asdrubal may be a comer, but let’s wait to see him gain seperation before we start slotting YuBet for a trade.

    Oh, and fire Hargrove. Today was the last straw for me. You have the Bay Area wrap-up guys making comments about how poorly played the game was. Yikes.

  11. Mariners Revolution said

    As usual good write-up Jason. Goose, I differ in the opinion that Cabrera will out hit Yuniesky down the road. The quality of professional Cuban Baseball was proven in the WBC. Betancourt was a .300 hitter and demonstrated gap power in Cuba. With more experience, Betancourt will improve tremendously as a hitter and develop further. Despite his lack of patience, Betancourt’s bat early this year has been nice.

  12. StandinPat said

    Third best hitter? You’re kidding right? He has the sixth best OPS of all the regular starters. As far as Cabrera goes, the numbers he is putting up in AAA as a 20 yr old bode well for his future performance. Obviously he has a ways to go, but his bat def projects better than Betancourts, and the fact that he can draw a walk allows him to hit in more spots in the lineup.

  13. KWright said

    I think Betancourt will become a top notch hitter with a little more time. Hes only have what 2 1/2 years of pro ball outside of Cuba if that? And plus he took a year off because he was on a raft. Hes going to be very good. But at this point Im just about willing to trade anyone to get some good starting pitching. Whichever of those 2 will get the highest price I would like to see happen. But if that doesn’t happen, Jason, could we possibly see Cabrera at 2nd and Lopez at 3rd? That could be a pretty impressive infield. Of course 08 we will still have Betre, but if he isn’t hitting by the end of 07 we need to just eat the loss.

  14. Goose said

    Top notch hitter? Define that.Give me numbers.

  15. KWright said

    300 ave… hes probably never going to walk much. Homers… 15, doubles & triples could be close to leading the league. Cabrera could and probably will be a better hitter than Betancourt, but I think Betancourt will be very good.

  16. Maybe KWright has been attending the Dr Detecto school of offensive prospecting.

    Kidding, Doc. Well, not really, we grossly disagree on Betancourt.

    Anyways…

    Cabrera has more plate skills today than Betancourt will ever have. That’s no guarantee that he becomes a better hitter than YuBet, but it’s a good sign that he certainly can.

    Betancourt, you have to remember, bolted Cuba in late 2003 and did not play live organized baseball until February of 2005… and at age 24 now, he has just 2/3 of a year of minor league development.

    Cuba’s leagues are decent, but it’s not the same developmentally as the US. He deserves 2 more years before completely leaping off his wagon as a hitter. He’s still trying to level off that swing and find consistency.

    To me, top notch, or Grade A labels have to mean the hitter has a lot of power potential, whether he hits for a high average, draws walks or not.

    To be Grade A or top notch, you have to have power. Betancourt does not.

  17. KWright said

    Well yeah, I do read the doctors site as well as this one, and I think he has a resonable look at Betancourt. 283/296/404 for someone who took a year off and has only had 2 years of pro american ball. Thats looking pretty good. As for top notch or grade A, I would consider Ichiro to be a top notch hitter even though he doesn’t have much power either. I don’t think Betancourt will ever reach Ichiro numbers (excluding last year, 303 is possible). Top notch top me means he will be somewhere within the top 10-15% in one of the major offensive catagories.

    But Jason my original and main reason for the post was to ask if Lopez at 3rd, Cabrera at 2nd and Betancourt at SS is a possibility. I would love to see them, Clement at 1st (I think he might be more valuable as an everyday player for 15 years instead of a 10 year part time catcher), Doyle LF (I read USSM as well), Jones CF and Ichiro or Baletien at RF. Of course this is not counting any free agents who might enter the mix.

  18. I think it’s a possibility, but probably not for the next few years. It’s going to be tough to deal Beltre away.

  19. Scruffy Lefty said

    When you say Choo doesn’t hit accidents HR and is consitent. Do you consider him kind of like a Ibanez type swing then?

  20. Their swings are different, but the results are similar. Choo just has to sustain it for long periods of time.

    He hasn’t homered aince April 25, so…

  21. Salty Dog said

    I see no need to choose between Betancourt and Cabrera, at least not yet. Why not make Cabrera a super infield sub, and let him split time with Beltre, Betancourt, and Lopez while we see how his bat adjusts to the major league level?

    If he does well, and there’s a chance to move one of the other guys (or Cabrera), great – but until then, leverage his versatility.

  22. MatthewCarruth said

    Why don’t we just wait a year before speculating? A-Cab, like Jones, has a ways to go in AAA.

  23. Edman said

    Jason. While I’m no Hargrove fan……I have to disagree with the mishandling of Livingston….and it affecting his career. IF it takes that little to derail him…..he’s not ready to be a major leaguer….period. If he can’t overcome the lack of use……then he’ll never prosper in the Pros. There are far tougher situations he’ll have to face.

    While you hate what happened to him, I see it as helping him grow. Too much success can leave kids ill prepared for handling failure.

    Livingston will be fine, regardless of Mike Hargrove. I want him gone too, but lets not overstate such a minor problem.

  24. warner28 said

    It seems to me we are worrying about slotting Cabrera in a little soon.

    He could/should probably spend the rest of this year and at least half of next year in Tacoma.

    Jones is probably in the same position but I could see the Mariners rushing him up and letting him sink or swim since CF is not a well taken care of as SS/2B.

    Ideally I think getting rid of Beltre after next season (assuming the light doesn’t come on) and moving Lopez to 3B to open up 2B for Cabrera is the best idea for the long term success of the team.

    Of course ideally the light comes on for Beltre but I have my doubts.

    And on the Clement to 1B comment. I feel the same way. With his bat why shorten his career by having him catch? Expecially when we have Johjima and Johnson around also. Not completely sold on moving Clement yet but do understand the argument.

  25. 1996Coug said

    Can we dispense with the this nickname trickery for players, eg A-Cab, A-Rod, K-Rod? There’s nothing less creative and it’s beginning to wear on me. It’s complete laziness.

    Get to know the players and then make up a nickname that says something about them. Jeez, A-Cab? Just shoot me.

  26. MatthewCarruth said

    You are correct. It is laziness. It is not meant to be creative. A-Cab is simply quicker to write than Cabrera or Asdrubal or what have you. If you feel so threatened by it, feel free to come up with a better reference. If it’s catchy and quick to type, I’m sure it will catch on.

  27. I dont think Hargrove’s handling of Bobby derailed his career, but it had an effect on his development – without any doubt whatsoever.

    Livingston feels like he didnt pitch for a year. That’s a travesty and Grover should be fried for it, among other things.

  28. Andrew said

    Edman,

    It’s not that we are worried about livingston’s fragile ego. The fact is he is a young starting pitcher. Young starting pitchers get better by going out there every five days or so and pitching. The work on mechanics, they work on different pitches, and the grow. They have their sessions on the side. It’s an entirely different routine than releiving.

    “After joining the Mariners on April 20, Livingston pitched all of 4 2/3 innings in 20 days.”

    In 20 days he should have pitched 4x that many innings at least. It’s no wonder he got hit around. Rust probably settled in.

  29. ivan said

    Francisco Cruceta’s line against Colorado Springs today: 8 IP, 2 H, 0 runs, 11 K, ZERO BB.

    Holy Moley, Batman! What have we here? If he can keep from walking people, we might have found another starter, and on the waiver scrap heap, no less.

  30. MatthewCarruth said

    If he continues to K people at a 12 per 9IP rate and allow a HR every 10 starts or so like he has in Tacoma, than I don’t care if he walks 4 per game.

  31. Willmore said

    Jason, are you going to be on with Softy this week ?

  32. Yeah, Tuesday instead of Monday. Holiday and all.

  33. Willmore said

    From the Times: “The Mariners reportedly had considered calling up Jones earlier this month when Matt Lawton was released, but Mike Morse was brought up instead.”

    Please tell me that’s not true, Jason. If it is, Bavasi should be subject to mummification … while alive.

  34. The top names always come up in conversation, but it was never close.

    I wanna know where this was “reported”.

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