M’s All-Prospect Team – 2006
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on September 8, 2006
It wasn’t a banner year for the Mariners minor league system. The highlights – Adam Jones, Francisco Cruceta, etc – are outweighed by the lack of promising talent in the upper levels.
But we aren’t here to dissect the farm system as a whole, because if we were, I’d follow with “Tony Butler, Chris Tillman, Greg Halman, Doug Salinas, Alex Liddi” etc.
Blah, blah, blah, the future is supposedly bright. Right? I think so, and I’m not alone. One NL scout recently sided with me when I told a Reds farmhand that I’d much rather be the Mariners, post 2006, than the A’s, Angels or Rangers
But, what about 2006?
Back to the best seasons from each position.
2006 All-Prospect Team
1B – Bryan LaHair
LaHair would have been the choice here even without his week-long power surge, which isn’t so much a tribute to the 24-year-old’s overall season but more of a rip on the organization’s depth at the position. Only Marshall Hubbard, who hit just .278/.361/.421 with 11 homers in 126 games split between Inland Empire and San Antonio.
LaHair finished the year, combined between Double-A and Triple-A, at .309/.381/.474 with 16 home runs. If LaHair was a right-handed bat, he’d be leading the Jon Nelson’s and TJ Bohn’s of the world, but that’s about it. His left-handedness makes him worth keeping an eye on, as does the fact that he’s 6-5 and 225 pounds, and an intelligent hitter who can spray the ball to left field.
It’s still very possible that he joins the big club sometime this month, after helping Team USA win the Olympic qualifying tournament.
2B – Luis Valbuena
Had Michael Garciaparra been healthy all year, he’d likely have been the choice, here, but Valbuena has a decent year split between the two Class A affiliates.
The 20-year-old has some pop but didn’t show it off much this season, posting just 38 extra-base hits in 128 starts. Valbuena, a left-handed hitter, isn’t much to talk about defensively and a switch to left field is probably necessary, but the Mariners are planning on using the Venezuelan at second base again in 2007.
Valbuena’s overall numbers are less-than extraordinary, but he put up a .286/.371 line in Wisconsin with 44 walks and 44 whiffs, then scuffled in 43 games in the Cal League, hitting just .252/.315. Another winner here by default, but Valbuena, like LaHair, is worth watching, even though a position switch is likely in his future.
Watch his OPS as he moves through the system. if he can keep it above .800 as he develops, he’ll probably have a java shot at the big leagues.
3B – Ron Garth
Garth isn’t even the best third base prospect in the system (as long as he’s playing there, Tui gets that nod) and he isn’t likely to stick at the hot corner, either. But the 21-year-old played the majority of his games at third and played it well defensively while putting up a middle infielder’s offensive line.
Garth, a Nicaragua native, batted .275/.339/.413 with 10 home runs for Wisconsin, and is probably going to continue to play second and third for Inland Empire, due to a lack of organizational options.
Garth isn’t a future major leaguer, but he’s a pretty solid bat in A ball, and had a good year in a tough league in which to hit.
SS – Oswaldo Navarro
Navarro, somewhat like his friend and former M’s prospect Asdrubal Cabrera, is a fun player to watch… in the field. When he picks up a bat, the results are satisfactory for a 21-year-old in the upper levels of the minors, but his future isn’t as potentially bright as his fellow countryman, Cabrera.
Navarro is listed as a switch hitter in many media listings, but he bats exclusively from the right side these days. He hits like he’s built – pretty lightly – but he does pop an occasional extra-base hit.
As we’ve talked about here before, Navarro needs to mature physically and get a lot stronger in his upper body in order to hit beyond the minors. He’s a dedicated diamond dog, however, so effort won’t be a problem.
Navarro is a future reserve middle infielder.
C – Jeff Clement
Clement’s first full professional season started off well, as the former first-rounder hit .288/.386/.525 in 15 games with Double-A San Antonio. But the backstop had to undergo meniscus and elbow surgeries that sidelined him for seven weeks.
Upon returning, the club made the mistake of immediately promoting Clement to Tacoma. He wasn’t ready to play everyday ANYWHERE, let alone in the PCL. Clement never recovered from the rusty return and hit .257/.321/.347 with the Rainiers.
The three most important things to remember are that Clement just turned 23, just completed his first full year in pro ball (in which the injury limited him to only 82 games played) and that he’s a tough, dedicated youngster with plenty of time to develop his skills, both at the plate, and behind it.
Clement’s power will come, in a similar manner as former Mariners prospect Shin-soo Choo. Choo improved his slugging percentage by nearly 70 points this season over 2005, and there’s no reason Clement can’t do the same, even more.
Power is the last thing to develop, especially for a catcher, who’s focused so much on improving defensively.
DH – Mike Wilson
Wilson’s late-season struggles notwithstanding, the former second round pick took another step this season after a solid year in Wisconsin last year.
But, like LaHair and one of the three outfielder’s on this team, Wilson hasn’t proven anything, other than the fact that he can get hot for small stretches and impress the heck out of those in attendance for the good streaks.
Wilson has two holes in his swing right now – down and away with the soft stuff (big surprise) and anything in on his hands… another shocker, eh? He’s far too impatient and lacks the plate coverage to make up for slightly above-average bat speed, but has the physical tools to hit for power.
For Wilson, it’s all about thinking his way through his ABs. More patience+better pitch recognition=more confidence. More confidence+consistency=legitimate offensive prospect.
The jury is still out on Wilson, and he’ll get a chance to prove his worth in Triple-A next season, probably as the club’s DH and part-time outfielder.
OF – Adam Jones
He’s simply the best prospect in the system, and it’s not close right now. He’s answered the questions we asked at the beginning of spring training (can he sustain success in the upper levels versus quality pitching? — can he adjust to center field without losing focus offensively? — can he continue to improve as he’s challenged aggressively by the organization?) and answered them all with a resounding yes.
He went from “raw and inexperienced ” in center field to “you can tell he’s starting to get it — and he certainly has the natural skills to get the job done.”
He made consistent, effective adjustments at the plate, learned from previous plate appearances and really didn’t slide into long streaks of bad at-bats.
Jones also got better in every aspect of the game of baseball. You name it, he’s light years better now than he was in February. Tracking fly balls, making the throws from the outfield, fielding grounders on the run, hitting the breaking ball, laying off the slider away, running the bases… he’s a solid, solid prospect with a pretty bright future.
Oh, and he’s going to continue to get better – he turned 21 on August 3 and wants to work on getting bigger and stronger without losing any of his speed.
Let’s see. A 6-2, 220-pound center fielder with 25+ homer power, that may ultimately go beyond the 30-mark, a cannon arm and a great team attitude to go with a strong work ethic.
I’ll take that. Wouldn’t you?
OF – Greg Halman
Not a ton to say about Halman, as he’s a raw, 19-year-old ( was 18 for his entire ’06 season) with a lot of physical ability, but an untested, unproven, inexperienced set of tools.
But he’s 6-4 and 215 pounds, is a plus runner with a plus arm, good insticts (may continue to play center field), and a healthy power swing that produced extra-bases on half of his hits with Everett this season.
Halman will have to learn how to work the count and get the best pitch to hit, but when he connects, it always has a chance to either go over the wall, or go through it. He’s a specimen, and baseball has been in his life for a long time.
I expect him to learn quickly, but here’s to hoping the club stays patient with him. At this point, I’d guess he starts 2007 in Wisconsin, with a slight chance at the Cal League butAugust. His spring performance will determinehis route for next year.
OF – Wladimir Balentien
Same old, same old with Big Bad Wlad. Big swings, bigtime power, lots of whiffs. The one difference this season is that he drew 70 walks, more than twice his previous career-high of 33 set last season at Inland Empire.
Balentien needs to either go back to his free-swinging ways, or find a way to mesh his patient side with his aggressove nature.
The 22-year-old is the toughest bat to evaluate in the entire system. He could end up flaming out as early as 2007, where he might just reset the league record for strikeouts in a season set by AJ Zapp in 2004. Or, he could make the proper adjustments, likely after a two-year stay in the PCL, and become a useful big-league bat.
SP – Ryan Feierabend
“Don’t pay any attention to the statistics next to Ryan Feierabend’s name.” They mean nothing. Okay, they mean something, but only when taken into proper context.
The newly-turned 21-year-old posted a K/9 of 7.4, a solid number for a developing southpaw with the upside of Feierabend. The average age of the batters in the Texas League this season was 23.9, more than three years older than Feierabend.
The lefty is the organization’s best pitching prospect at the moment, and could get a shot to win the fifth spot in the rotation next spring, though it’s more likely that he starts the year in Triple-A with a chance at a call-up next summer.
He’s ramped up to 153 2/3 innings and is probably ready to approach 190 frames in 2007. Feierabend is another prospect in which to be patient. He’s just 21 and has plenty of time mature and develop into a legit major league starting pitcher.
He’s well on his way.
SP – Francisco Cruceta
Potentially the M’s fifth starter next season… potentially next season’s version of Julio Mateo – but better. Cruceta will miss bats at the next level. The only question is whether he’ll post league-average strikeout rates as a starting pitcher, at least until he improves his breaking ball and his overall command, or become another in a fleet of top drawer power arms the Mariners have at their disposal out of the bullpen.
I’ll bet on… okay, I’m not sure.
RP – Mark Lowe
The Mariners have a laundry list of things to accomplish this winter, but one of them should be to assure themselves that Mark Lowe’s right elbow is sound, and prepare him to return to the starting rotation.
They have to at least entertain the though, discuss it with Lowe, Pat Rice, Brad Holman and company, and see how he responds to longer stints on the hill next spring. if it doesn’t work out and he reverts back to his low-90s heat with fading secondary pitches, they can always toss him back into the bullpen where they know he can succeed.
Lowe was unbelievable this season at all three stops.
RP – Eric O’Flaherty
How can you not love O’Flaherty’s future? He’s a former starting pitcher who moved to the pen to curb his back problems, but at 21 years of age has embraced his new role. How could he not, it got him to the bigs, where he’ll probably remain for good.
O’Flaherty has legit major league stuff that should allow him to stay effective against both lefties and righties. His cutter is a solid offering versus RH bats, and he extends the same pitch into more a of slider versus lefties.
His fastball sits in the low 90s and his slider can get righties to bite, too. He was just as good against righty bats as he was against lefties in the minors, and has continued that trend in the big leagues, though right-handers have four hits in their past six ABs against him.
O’Flaherty’s makeup is perfect in a middle-to-late innings relief role, short of the setup role, at least for now.