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."
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.
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."
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.]
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).
Pitch Development: B-
Overall development: B
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.
Pitch Development: B-
Overall Development: B
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