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Farm Stuff – 6.23.06

Posted by Jason A. Churchill on June 24, 2006

Since my e-mail in-box is full of questions about so many things, from 'what is wrong with Felix Hernandez' to 'where can a non-drafted prep talent get noticed', I thought I'd fill the Farm Notes with those responses, as well as my thoughts on Mike Wilson, Jeff Clement's defense and timetable as well as the Everett roster, which is really interesting.

First of all, there is nothing wrong with Felix Hernandez. Nothing at all. He's always fallen off the mound like that – it's not a major issue. He's pitching well right now – including the start versus the Dodgers in which as many as five of the hits he gave up were simply well-placed. In other words, luck got the best of him.

But notice that all 11 of the hits he surrendered were singles. That's a sign that his pitches are working. They didn't hit the ball hard off of him and he didn't walk a batter.

Outfielder Mike Wilson — yeah, he's interesting, and his two-game jump in the Texas League is really quite fun to follow. Scouts still worry about his ability to hit for power consistently and to cover ground defensively. He's had one decent year and two mediocre seasons since being drafted in the second round.

He was a football player and has a linebacker's body, which isn't necessarily bad, but he really should try and avoid the Emiliano Fruto physique, because the next stop on the road to a job selling lawn fertilizer to apartment dwellers or life insurance to the deceased, is the Bartolo Colon school of nutrition – and that's not a good sign.

Wilson has a lot of natural tools and he seems to have gathered enough of them to put up very good numbers in the California League, but he is 23 already and has less time to get where he's going than, say, Wladimir Balentien, whose upside is much higher, at least offensively.

Wilson could be figuring things out, however, and if he is, he'll continue to hit in Double-A San Antonio and begin the 2007 season in Triple-A Tacoma.

One scout said this of Wilson's half in Inland Empire:

"I don't know if anyone is sure what to think of him, to be honest. Maybe not even Seattle. I saw him in Arizona (rookie league) a lot and thought he looked like a fish out of water. Than in short-season (Everett), he looked disinterested, out of shape and closer to the end of his career than the beginning.

"He's just cut out a lot of the bad habits at the plate, even between April and now… not a bad thing to see from a bat. Who knows what he's going to do up there (San Antonio) since this league (Cal) is down a lot this year, especially in the pitching department."

Another scout added this:

"He reminds me of Jermaine Dye in that he doesn't look like he's going to hit the ball very hard, but you look up and it's a gap double or one of the harder ground balls hit all year. His power is intriguing. He's probably a DH or a reserve, unless he can do something about his lax glove. He can throw pretty well."

Jeff Clement, on the other hand, has all the work ethic, strong attitude, leadership skills and baseball intelligence to be the best player in the history of the game. His physical skills won't follow, of course, but for a catcher, he fits right in.

Offensively, it's just a matter of time and timing. He'll get comfortable in Tacoma pretty soon and start scorching balls off the wall and into the gaps.

Defensively, I see no reason why he can't be Jason Varitek… really smart, gutty, has enough arm and accuracy to not let clubs run all over the M's and he'll get better at blocking balls in the dirt every day until he retires.

Clement is a sound receiver. He doesn't lunge at pitches and appears well-balanced and capable of moving quickly out his crouch to chase down a bunt or pop-up. He'll need more work on his throwing technique, but his arm strength is fine and his accuracy will improve as he refines his mechanics.

Until he learns the pitchers in Tacoma, he'll get the pitches from the dugout, but that shouldn't last too long. He's a dedicated catcher.

I'd put his chances at remaining behind the plate at 75% and the chances of Clement becoming Jorge Posada with the bat at about 80%.

So, I guess if Jeff Clement is Jorge Varitek, than Rob Johnson is Dan Ausmus. Not bad, eh?

The Everett AquaSox have their best roster since 2002 when Bobby Livingston, Troy Cate and Ismael Castro put up huge numbers in the Northwest League.

The outfield of Greg Halman, Kuo-hui Lo and Jose Graterol was fun enough and then Gavin Dickey joined the roster to add more athleticism and a toolsy look to the group.

Lo, pictured above with M's scout Jamey Storvick, is a very patient, selective bat who projects as a 280 hitter with 20+ home run power. At 6-1 and 185 pounds, Lo runs well and can handle center field in the minors, but projects as a prototypical Safeco left fielder. Above average arm and solid instincts to go with strong fundamentals make Lo more than interesting.

Halman is just a beast, and why he's leading off right now, well, that's beyond me. He's a future run producer and at 18 years of age, he should probably be protected in that lineup, rather than exposed as the inexperienced player that he is.

Halman is listed at 6-4 and 192, but there is no way he's under 210 pounds. He's a right-handed bat, as is Lo, with unlimited raw power and an advanced understanding of the strikezone. But he's a bit of a free swinger anyways and will need to shorten that swing a bit. But the bat speed is there, as is the athleticism to be an above average defensive player.

Jose Graterol, formerly known as Oswaldo Graterol, is another righty stick, but he lacks the natural gifts of Lo and Halman. But Graterol is more polished and is probably more likely to put up good numbers in Everett.

Graterol has medium power and average defensive abilities. His throwing had a rep for being on the plus side when he signed, but not many scouts see his arm being much more than average for a corner outfielder.

Other than the outfield, Everett's roster is littered with talent, particularly on the hill. Right-handers Michael Schilling and Doug Fister are interesting arms, but both are long shots to remain starters past High A ball.

RHP Kameron Mickolio stands 6-9 and weighs in at 260 pounds, so he's interesting in a projectable fashion.

Southpaws Greg Nesbitt and Steve Uhlmansiek, both 23, have tossed up stellar debuts in 2006. Uhlmansiek is finally healthy after TJ surgery in 2004. He was the M's 12th round selection that June but many clubs had him graded among the top 70 players in the draft before the injury.

As the season progresses, I'll make the trip to E-town to get a closer look at these guys myself, and I'll certainly cross that with a few scouts and report accordingly.

By the way, can't forget 19-year-old backstop Jair Fernandez. "Keep an eye on him," says M's catching coordinator Roger Hansen. "He'll catch and if his bat can keep up, he's going to be a good one, too."

Perhaps the funnest arm to watch in Everett is side-arming reliever Austin Bibens-Dirkx, the M's 16th rounder out of Portland. He's a true side-arm thrower, not a submariner. It's very odd to see the ball come out at that angle, but he's very effective. Besides, he has one of the best names in sports.

Programming Note Update: I'll be joining Everett's play-by-play man Pat Dillon on 1380 AM for some pre-game stuff soon – I'll update when I find out more. Also, there will be some video up soon. May get it up by Tuesday, including a little bit from Livingston and LaHair among others.

Also, on top of the exclusivity of the video I will be adding, I'll also have some audio ready to go as well as some digital photos of the pitching grips of some of the arms in Tacoma – even Francisco Cruceta and that splitter he uses.

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25 Responses to “Farm Stuff – 6.23.06”

  1. Andren said

    At what point is it safe to assume that our minor league situation is improving with respect to other clubs? I know that the Ms haven’t been thought of very highly in recent years as far as prospects but do you see signs of improvement? Has the draft of the past two years gotten us ahead of other programs or are we simply still playing catch-up at this point?

  2. If we assumed that Brandon Morrow has an average shot to be a league-average starter or slightly better and Tillman signs, I think the club actually jumps from the 18-23 range to the 15-18 range.

    The club began the year with little depth in the pitching department and with only two projected regulars among the position prospects that had more than a few games of experience above A ball.

    Now they have four more (Tui, Cabrera, Clement, Johnson) to add to Jones and Snelling and Morrow/Tillman add to the solid performances of medium-to-low ceiling arms like Rohrbaugh, Thomas, Nottingham and the three relief aces – O'Flaherty, Lowe, Kahn.

    The system still lacks legit power bats and remains shallow in the pitching department, but they are much closer to middle of the pack than when the year began.

    I scoured over the farm systems right after the draft, and lemme tell ya, A TON OF BA's TOP 20 PROSPECTS for so many teams are really struggling this year.

    Considering the Mariners have so many of their spects in AA and AAA, even before the recent flurry, is a plus, regardless of their numbers (save, perhaps, Rob Johnson, who probably is still 2 years away).

    The three key members of the farm system, just as far as the clubs' prospect status goes, are Jones, Clement and Morrow, but Tui could really either put a damper on things if he stumbles in the next year, or vault the system closer to the top 12 with a power surge and better plate discipline.

    It's still an average to slightly below-average farm system, but their 2005-06 grade is in the C range, which is up from the D range just prior to the 2004 draft.

    For the M's to rank in the top 10, they'll need more impact talents to push through.   

  3. Jerry said

    Nice summary Jason,

    I still keep waiting for one or two players to really jump up and have breakout years. Last year, we had Jones. But this year, I am not seeing anyone making a huge leap from ‘interesting’ to ‘top-100’ status.

    I was really hoping that Tui or Michael Saunders would be the guys who would do that. Both guys still have time, and Tui is at least showing contact ability if not the power.

    Beyond that, it seems like there are a lot of players taking small steps: Feierabend, Cruceta, Jones, Chen, Rohrbauch, etc. The M’s have some nice relievers coming up too.

    But I am not seeing many of the guys in the system establishing themselves as blue-chip prospects (like Andrew Miller…ARGH). That is what gets an organization ranked really high. One Felix is worth 5 guys like Rob Johnson. Until the M’s add a few more impact players, they are not going to get back up among the top farm systems in baseball.

    But there are some interesting players coming up in the lower levels. Lo, Halman, and Uhlmanseik could all develop into really good prospects. Justin Thomas is a guy worth watching too.

    Plus, the M’s did add a lot of guys in the draft who have high ceilings, especially in their first three picks. In that regard, the 2006 draft was a lot different than 2005. Last year was about depth. This year, it seems like the M’s took more chances on players who could be really really good. That is exactly what they needed to do, because elite prospects are worth much much more than decent bench types. If nothing else, the pitching they added in the draft makes them better immediately.

    Plus, a healthy Clement is an elite prospect. If Jones can make some adjustments, especially making contact and drawing a few more walks, he will be in that upper eschelon of prospects as well. Hopefully, we will see a few of these guys dominate in the next half season.

  4. Jerry said

    Jason,

    Two questions:

    Do you have any idea why the M’s have been so aggressive with their prospects this year? I am that Clement, Jones, Johnson, Cabrera, and Tui are playing at the levels they are at right now. Is this some organizational strategy to challenge them? I can’t see any reason why any of these guys would be on the fast track (in regards to the needs of the ML club, I mean).

    Second, are there any rumors about international free agent signings in the pipe? Or are they going to focus their finances on signing guys like Tillman, Butler, Adcock, Baehl, Runzler, and Nobles? I am hoping that they can add another big time signing, like Betancourt or Lo. But I would understand if they have to use their money on the draft for those highschool players.

  5. Jerry said

    Actually,

    I guess that the M’s have signed more guys that I had thought:

    http://www.marinerminors.blogspot.com/

    Minnicker, Butler, and Adcock are now signed. That only leaves a handfull of prep guys left. If they can get Cam Nobles and perhaps one or two of the other late-round prep players, this will be a nice haul.

  6. Nighthawk180 said

    We need to sign Tillman. This draft for being as shallow that some have said it was wasn’t that bad on the mariner end. That is my opinion but I think the mariners did quiet well and will continue to do so if fontaine and crew are running the draft. Go M’s

  7. Looks like I’m heading up again tonight. Will Michael Garciaparra be around tonight? I need to add him to my photo database. Don’t know how much photo taking I’ll do tonight, though, as we’re making a family outing of it, and hangin’ with my sister’s family. I noticed Rob Johnson has been reactivated, but I didn’t see anything on Little G. You got any news there?

  8. StandinPat said

    I didnt realize we signed Gavin Dickey. How does he project? Seemed like he slipped due to signability issues, like returnign for his senior year.

  9. willmore2000 said

    Jason, Halman has me very intrigued, where do you see him project ? And where does his potential stand right now, as in, can he be an elite player with some luck in development ?

  10. Joshua said

    Jason, this may be a little off-topic but I love the rosters you have in the title bar. Just curious if you keep them fairly up-to-date? I notice with the official sites, it takes quite a while to note the roster moves.

  11. willmore2000 said

    Jason mentioned that he corrects them about once a month. Or, if there are a lot of major moves, like recently, I assume.

  12. J said

    Jair Fernandez is solid behind the plate. Best catcher I’ve seen up there thus far (by a good margin) and is quite mature for his age. Nice bat too, not very patient, but that swing is a blur.

  13. Andren said

    Thanks for the response Jason. At least we are moving in the right direction. This is positive considering Felix, Lopez, Betancourt, Soriano and Putz are recent products of this system.

    I’m hoping we make a good run and challenge for the division. If not, I hope that Bavasi pulls the trigger on deals (with prospects in mind) for Meche or Pineiro, Guardado, Everett etc. I know we probably won’t get much of anything, but the salary relief will be great. I guess if Meche signs somewhere else in the offseason we might get a pick.

    We’ve got to get some power bats in the system I agree, although I’m excited about Jones, Clement and possibly Tui’s potential there. Clement couldn’t be more perfect for Safeco.

  14. #4 The M’s for the most part have always been agressive in there promotes, just the way they are. I like what the scouting staff has done in getting players in this years draft. A couple more years of drafts like this and we will have a stocked farm again.

    I look at things from a roto angle, I like my fantasy baseball. I look to guys like Jones, Clement and Cabrera to see big league playing time next year. Good guys to stash at a back end of a roster in reserve.

    Jason’s web site here among his other projects have been a great help to me. Keep up the great work guy and gratz on the Aqua Sox pre-game stuff. If in town maybe I can buy you a beer.

  15. The M’s, other than with the no-brainers like Griffey and AROD and Cruz jr, have typically been very conservative in challenging their spects.

  16. MatthewCarruth said

    1) Why is Bibens-Dirkx in Tacoma?
    2) What is he doing putting up a 2IP, 2H, 0R, 1BB, 5SO line in Tacoma?
    3) What is he doing tossing 50 pitches?

  17. 1) To replace Sean Green, who went to Seattle to give them a fresh arm – they sorely needed one.

    2) He’s got solid stuff and a great sidearm delivery that can fool hitters. Not surprised he put up that line – you can bet Portland had never faced a true sidearmer like Bibens-Dirkx until tonight.

    3) Covering innings. Extra innings and a lot of long, high-scoring affairs, plus the loss of a fresh Sean Green meant the Rainiers were saddled with a pretty tired pen. Not that there wasn’t anyone else available, but he was en fuego, so why remove him? 50 pitches isn’t going to hurt him and he certainly didn’t get into trouble in a 12-2 game…

  18. MatthewCarruth said

    1. Makes sense, but why him all the way from Everett? I get that it’s easier than bringing somebody up from AA, then moving someone from IE to SA and so on, isn’t it weird to take a guy from short season to AAA? Or does it not matter that much with RP? Or was it simply because Everett is close to Tacoma geographically?

    2. I was just shocked to see him do so well considering the above mentioned Everett-Tacoma temp promo.

    3. Again, just surprised. Is this an indication that he may be able to pitch multiple innings at a time? Don’t sidearmers typically have horrendous splits that prevent them from being anything more than a specialist?

  19. 1. Exactly… he was close and it’s most likely temporary.

    2. Again, he’s different.

    3. Yes… but i wouldn’t think he’s more than 2 inning guy regularly — and yeah, typically, the opposite handed bats can kill them, but thats due to the submariners not having a way to hide the ball as long and/or not having a good change of speed pitch.

    Eck was good versus lefties.

    But again, AB-D is a true sidearmer, not a submariner.

  20. Check out The Morsels for some goods on Bibens-Dirkx. As I mentioned before in this thread, I was there with my family moreso than for photography. But I did get several shots of Austin. He looked pretty good out there for a 16th-rounder.

  21. Okay, so the link in the thread doesn’t work. Just click on my name to get to The Morsels 😉

  22. willmore2000 said

    Jason, is Snelling ready ? 3-5 with 3 doubles speaks volumes to me. And with the homer last night, this makes for a great return to power-hitting for him. He’s not coming to Seattle unless Everett is gone or Ibanez is injured, that’s understandable, so will Bavasi try to move Everett before the deadline, even if we are still in the race to make room for Snelling, or will he keep Doyle in Tacoma ? I sure as hell don’t want him sitting on the bench in Seattle, like Petagine is wasted away.

    Also, are they converting Fillinger to a starter, and why is he still in California, he’s had a great season so far, why not challege him ?

  23. Fillinger is in Cali BECAUSE he’s beeing converted into a starter. Soft landings.

    Re: Snelling

    His health is still a little bit of a concern, but you could see something happen any day now.

    Snelling has been playing the field more and more lately, including center field about 40% of the time.

    He’s on fire and hitting the ball hard the past two weeks. Snelling is back like the boogey man.

    I would not be surprised to see him called up today, but it’s more likely that the club waits until the all-star break.

    But if they get something done with Everett, it could happen at second.

  24. willmore2000 said

    The CF comment makes me wonder if they might want to swap Reed and Snelling. How big of a downgrade defensively would that be ?

  25. That’s a big downgrade – Snelling/Reed in center and Snelling does need to be protected health wise.

    I don’t think that has much to do with anything right now except keeping Snelling’s knee away fromt he fences in foul territory.

  26. willmore2000 said

    Good, I want Reed out there. How are your connections with the big club ? Would you have any inside info, if there were rumblings about a trade with Everett being close ?

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