2007 Prospect Rankings: 31-40
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on January 18, 2007
One afternoon at a minor league ballpark I saw a kid, maybe eight or nine years old, sitting by himself watching batting practice as he leaned eagerly on the seat in front of him. A slugger in the cage was hitting screamers off the wall and over the fence into the parkling lot. I sat down a few rows ahead of him and started making notes and such, scribbling on the media notes I’d just picked up from the press box.
After about 10 minutes, the kid asked me if I knew who the specific player was that was putting on the show in the cage every few minutes. I did, and I told him, and he then asked, “when did he get here, he’s raking?” Taken aback that a grade-schooler just described what he just saw as “raking,” I filled him on the acquisition history of the player in question.
He then sat there in silence for another 10, 15 minutes until the player ran out onto the field to shag fly balls while they rotated groups for BP. I was about to get up and go sit on the bench so I could strike a conversation with a player or two as BP ended when the kid sprouted up again and asked if that player was going to be in the majors soon.
So here I am, talking prospects with an eight-year-old who keeps using words like “raking” and “range” and “mechanics.” I told myself while he was talking that I had to ask what this kid’s name was before I went down to the field, but then he said the damndest thing to me.
Looking straight at me for the first time, “Jake” said to me: “Hey, have you ever read that web site, prospectinsider.com?”
I started to laugh, almost uncontrollably, and told him “yeah, I’ve read that site from time to time… why?” He responded, “well, that’s where I go to read about minor league guys and stuff. My dad goes there everyday, and he saved it on my favorites for me. I used to have trouble reading, but my dad thought If i was reading something I liked to read about, that I wouldn’t be so bad at it.”
So when people ask me why I do this, I now have this story to tell. Jake gets a little better at reading because he reads about baseball, and he even visits Prospect Insider sometimes. When I asked him if it was working and if he was getting better at reading, he said this: “Heck yeah, I am here with my school today because I read more books than anybody else in my grade. Last year I read one book. This year, I read like… sooo many, like 20 or 30.”
Okay, so Jake isn’t THE reason I started writing about prospects and minor leaguers, but he’s certainly one of the reasons I enjoy it as much as I do. Oh, and the player he was in awe over was none other than Adam Jones.
Doug Fister, RHP – Ht: 6-8 Wt: 210 Fresno State/2006 – 7th round
Fister was the Mariners’ 7th rounder last June after being a sixth rounder in 2005 and was impressive in his pro debut in short-season Everett last summer. The 6-foot-8 righthander regularly touches the low-90s with his fastball – and there may be more in his four-seamer, particularly if he is moved to the bullpen somewhere on his way up the ladder.
The 22-year-old made just four starts with the Aqua Sox but logged 40 innings after throwing 116 frames in 19 starts with Fresno State. Fister made the most of his time in the Northwest League, punching out 35 versus just 11 walks.
He allowed just two long balls, thanks to the downward plane he creates with his tall frame and 4/5 arm angle.
“I really like him a lot,’ said one scout of Fister and his aggressive style. “He really attacks hitters and his stuff is good enough to avoid big damage when he misses his spots – but he didn’t miss much the few times I saw him. Being that tall he can really create some tough angles for hitters and he seems to use that to his advantage.”
Fister has above-average command of his fastball and an above-average slider that should get better in 2007 when he begins his first full-season campaign in the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers rotation. He’ll need to continue to keep the ball down in the zone, which is what he did in Everett as he posted a 1.72 G/F ratio – rates that could lead to success in the upper levels.
Fister could ultimately be a big-league reliever and has the stuff to back it up. In relief, he could turn his fastball up into the mid-90s with regularity and wouldn’t need to worry as much about his change-up, perhaps the toughest pitch for young arms to develop.
Thomas Hubbard, 1B – B: L T: L Ht: 6-2 Wt: 215 North Carolina/2004 – 8th round
Hubbard, the M’s seventh round draft pick in 2004, took a step back last season after prompting a near dead-even race for the system’s best first base prospect with Bryan LaHair last winter. LaHair won out with a big year in the Cal League, which is exactly what the Mariners were hoping to get from Hubbard this past summer. It didn’t happen and Hubbard’s status is spiraling downward.
The 24-year-old North Carolina grad spent most of the season on the shelf and hit just .265/.353/.420 in the 61 games in which he did play. He did, however, show signs of ability with 27 walks and just 40 whiffs in 258 plate appearances, but the power just wasn’t there as it was in 2005 when Hubbard smacked 17 homers among 43 total extra-base hits.
“It did look like he was turning the corner,” said a former Midwest League manager who played nine years in the bigs. “He hurt us on mistake pitches a few times last year, but this time around he seemed to have trouble picking up pitches and making adjustments. He can hit, we’ve seen it, but now it’s about how well he can use his strengths to overcome his weaknesses.”
Hubbard lacks optimal pitch recognition and carries only average bat speed for a first baseman. He’s adept at working the count but struggles against left-handers and anything with a lot of movement hands him far too much grief, even though he limits the strikeout totals.
Defensively, the former outfielder has good range and a decent arm to go with solid hands, which may bode well for his chances beyond Double-A West Tennessee, which is where Hubbard is slated to start 2007.
Hubbard’s future is likely as a career minor leaguer with a slight chance for a reserve role in the big leagues. LaHair put a considerable amount of distance between the two lefty sluggers with a strong finish in Triple-A, and Hubbard will need a rather huge showing in the Southern League this year to get back on the map.
We probably haven’t seen his best yet, but it’s hard to imagine Hubbard playing his way into a Mariners uniform anytime soon, if ever.
Gerardo Avila, 1B – B: L T: L Ht: 6-2 Wt: 190 UFA/Venezuela – 2002
Avila’s strength lies in his solid power swing with a natural upper cut, which is also detrimental to his inability to make consistent contact. He’s still very raw and has a lot to learn, but the physical tools are there.
Some scouts see a lot of holes in his approach and while the 20-year-old still has time to make corrections, he’ll have to do so as quickly as the Mariners challenge him.
“When he connected, the ball really takes off for him,” said West Coast scouting coordinator for a National League club. “He has a major league swing, but needs a big-league approach to go with it. Chasing pitches out of the zone is a tough habit to break, but the good hitters find a way.”
Avila co-led the Arizona Rookie League with seven home runs with an aggressive, somewhat impatient attack that led to 35 strikeouts to just seven walks. Avila posted a strong .929 OPS in 32 games with Peoria, but his AVG-OBP differential was just .063.
The Venezuelan will have to become more patient at the plate and working the count more often while cutting the strikeout totals considerably. Avila was very streaky last summer with his ground-ball-fly-ball rates, starting off with a predominant amount of fly balls and ending the year with far too many ground balls. The Mariners will attempt to get him to level out that swing to induce more line drives and improve his ability to make contact on a regular basis.
Avila is a long shot to reach the show and is basically a lefty version of Wladimir Balentien with less natural power. Avila will start the 2007 season in Class A Wisconsin looking to build on a solid first year in the states.
Jose Escalona, LHP – Ht: 5-11 Wt: 170 UFA/Venezuela – 2003
Escalona is perhaps the most impressive of the young group of arms the Mariners assigned to Wisconsin last season, turning in a respectable 4.06 ERA in 26 starts and 126 1/3 innings of work.
Using a high-80s four-seamer and a potentially above-average slider, the 21-year-old southpaw yielded just over a hit per inning for a .262 BAA and 110 strikeouts. The slider is effective as a two-strike offering and missed enough bats to eventually become a major-league pitch.
Escalona’s future success will rely mainly on two things – a third pitch to keep better hitters from laying off the slider and sitting dead red, and better overall command of all of his pitches. He throws a change, but it’s still in its early stages and needs a lot of improvement.
The 5-10 and 170 pounder will probably have to move to the pen as a big league pitcher, but will remain a starter until he is no longer effective in that role as he tunes up his stuff and mechanics.
Expect Escalona to see action in the California League this season, where his fly ball tendencies will clash with the ballpark and climate and certainly provide him with plenty of incentive to keep the ball down and establish a third pitch.
Edgar Guaramato, RHP – Ht: 6-1 Wt: 188 UFA/Venezuela – 2000
Guaramato didn’t take too well to his assignment to the bullpen in 2006, posting a 5.74 ERA in 54 games. But the Venezuelan’s stuff is better than his numbers suggest -the 22-year-old right-hander has decent stuff headlined by a sinking fastball in the 87-90 mph range and an above-average slider.
In 62 2/3 innings, Guaramato allowed just 51 hits and fanned 64, but served up 47 walks, hit 17 batters and tossed 12 wild pitches.Needless to say, Guaramato’s control needs quite a bit of improvement if he’s to have a shot in MLB.
The stuff is good enough for a journeyman middle-relief role and his ground ball ratios are solid (1.80 in 2006), but if he can’t keep runners off base he’ll have no chance.
“I’m not sure why he isn’t starting anymore” one scout said. “I’ve seen him since his days down in the Latin leagues and (he) needs to start to log innings, even though he’ll be a reliever in the long haul. I like his slider and he seems to know what he’s doing out there. But you do have to throw strikes.”
Guaramato is slated for High Desert where he is among very few who have a chance at success with his sinker. A fast start may be enough to earn a quick promotion to Double-A.
Andrew Baldwin, RHP – Ht: 6-5 Wt: 220 Trade/Philadelphia – 2006
Baldwin came over in the Jamie Moyer deal with Phildelphia and did nothing but show he belonged in the rotation at Inland Empire, posting strong numbers in all areas, including a 13-2 K/BB ratio and more than seven frames per start.
Baldwin, 23, uses a four-seam fastball in the 87-90 mph range, a curve ball, a slider and a change-up that may be his best pitch at times, and his command is above average with all four pitches. His fastball has room to gain velocity behind his 6-5 frame.
“That slider is a bit flat and his curve ball hangs more than I’d like to see,” said an AL scout. “But he’s a nice arm to have and it’ll be interesting to see what he can do at the next level. Sometimes when a young pitcher changes his environment, the instruction sinks in differently and he becomes a better pitcher because of it. Maybe he is one of those.”
Baldwin’s future is likely as a No. 5 starter or long reliever, but he is a candidate for the Diamond Jaxx starting rotation to start 2007.
Steve Uhlmansiek, LHP – Ht: 6-3 Wt: 190 Wichita State/2004 – 12th round
Uhlmansiek would rank higher if he had pitched more than the 66 1/3 innings he logged in Everett last season after missing most of 2005 from the Tommy John surgery performed on his left elbow in May, 2004. The M’s picked up Uhlmansiek in the 12th round of the 2004 draft, just one week after his procedure, and still believe he’ll recover fully and give them an option at the big-league level.
Not many share the team’s optimism, but minor league pitching coordinator Pat Rice likes what he saw from Uhlmansiek in the southpaw’s first extended action in pro ball.
“He’s been pretty good, I think,” said Rice. “We’d like to see more consistency from him but he’s taking the ball every time out and hasn’t had any setbacks, so that’s good news.
“His breaking ball isn’t where it needs to be, and really none of his pitches are, really, and that is to be expected. But that will come with time as he builds his arm strength back up. We would like to see him break out at some point and really get it going, and we think he will, but he’s just getting things going again.”
Uhlmansiek’s four-seam fastball sat anywhere from 85 to 88 mph last season, and his breaking ball, a ¾ armed curve ball, has good depth that, like any curve ball, requires a consistent release point to remain an effective pitch.
The former Wichita State star, 24 in February, must regain his control after issuing 38 walks in 15 starts in 2006.
Look for Uhlmansiek to start the 2007 season in Wisconsin where any sustained success will send him packing for the California League.
Nathan Adcock, RHP – Ht: 6-5 Wt: 195 North Hardin HS (Ky.)/2006 – 5th round
Adcock threw the ball pretty well in the rookie league last summer, posting a 1.35 G/F ratio and a 3.31 ERA in 35 1/3 innings – 10 games, six starts and the club’s 5th round pick in the ’06 draft has a chance to climb these rankings in a hurry.
The North Hardin, Kentucky product sits in the 87-90 range with his fastball and already possesses the makings of an above-average breaking ball. There were questions about his mechanics prior to the draft but physically he’s the prototypical pitcher and the Mariners like what they see in in the right-hander.
The soon-to-be 19-year-old displayed good pitchability in Arizona, whiffing 31 and allowing just 33 hits, but also showed how his control can be erratic at times; he walked 16, hit five batters and tossed five wild pitches. He’ll have to clean that up to get the most of his stuff, which is potentially above average.
The development of a change is essential if Adcock is to remain a starting pitcher unless his curve ball develops into a plus pitch and he adds a split-finger or another show-me offering. He’ll also need to refine his delivery, ironing out some of the inconsistencies and kinks that exist in most prep pitchers.
Adcock could remain in short-season play in 2007, but it isn’t out of the realm of probability for the Mariners to challenge him in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League where he’ll be assisted by the weather and ballparks.
Travis Chick, RHP – Ht: 6-3 Wt: 220 Trade/Cincinnati – 2006
Chick came over in the trade for Eddie Guardado last summer and was the second best thing that came from the deal. Okay, third best.It meant J.J. Putz, the pen’s best pitcher, was finally the club’s closer. It meant Eddie Guardado was NOT. And it meant Travis Chick was a Mariners farmhand, which, while not an impact acquisition, gives the team another capable middle relief option sitting in Triple-A Tacoma awaiting the call.
Chick had a breakout year as a 20-year-old in the Sally League in 2004, posting an 11.04 K/9 and then following that up with a 11.69/9 rate in the Midwest League after being dealt from Florida to San Diego. The former 14th round pick of the Marlins then hit the wall, struggling in High-A and AA with the Padres and Reds, before pitching somewhat better in Double-A San Antonio the second half of last season.
Armed with a fastball in the 88-91 mph range, but has sat 90-93, touching 95 in previous seasons. His slider has also lost some bite as well as velocity, but Chick has had no major injuries in which to attribute the fall-off.
He has overthrown his slider at times and leaves pitches up in the zone far too frequently. His best pitch is a potentially plus change-up and his arm action at the top of his delivery is unconventional to say the least.
Chick’s future is probably in the bullpen where he can dial-up a decent fastball-change-up combo. If his slider returns to its previous state, the 24-year-old could be a decent option as a swing-arm in the mold of a Ramiro Mendoza, but that’s his ceiling at this stage of his career.
Chick is slated for Triple-A Tacoma to begin the 2007 season, but his role is yet to be defined.
Doug Salinas, RHP – Ht: 6-5 Wt: 195 UFA/Venezuela – 2005
Salinas is a power pitcher with a fastball sitting in the 88-91 mph range and a potentially plus slider. With Peoria last summer at age 17, the Venezuelan allowed just 39 hits in 50 2/3 innings, striking out 49 and issuing just 15 walks. He yielded just one home run in his five starts and seven relief appearances, posting a 2.84 ERA and a perfect 4-0 record with two saves.
The Mariners think Salinas could be an impact arm, starting games or recording key outs in the final three innings of victories. He’s raw and just turned 18 in December, but has the acumen to learn how to pitch much quicker than the average teenage hurler. The club would like to see him throw his change-up more and develop it into an average or better offering, thus providing another option other than the slider.
Salinas is currently a fly-ball pitcher and needs to learn to learn to pitch with more leverage and attack the bottom half of the strike zone and induce more ground balls. Seattle will likely suggest using a two-seamer, but that may not come for a few years until the right-hander is finished developing physically.
Expect Salinas to gradually add velocity and settle into the low-90s but he must not overuse his slider and destroy his live arm. He will have to develop confidence in his fastball and stay away from the upper portion of the strike zone as he starts to face better hitters.
Seattle is likely to take it a little slower with Salinas than with other teenagers such as Adcock, due to the financial commitment differential, but he should see time in Everett and/or Wisconsin at some point in 2007.