2007 Prospect Rankings: 21-30
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on February 3, 2007
When I started working this section of the top 50 I was sitting across from a scout with the Cincinnati Reds, who was kind enough to bring some notes and reports with him for my benefit. As I type away using some of the comments he’s made on a few of the prospects I have ranked between 21-30, keep in mind this is one scout’s opinion, and the rankings were not in any way influenced by these anlayses.
I finished the actual rankings the day before Christmas – all of them, 1 through 20, 21 through 30, 31 through 40 and 41 through 50… Mr. K, as I’ll call him in anonymity, was simply kind enough to slurp down a few Alaskan Ambers while I went to work.
We’re down into a group of 10 talents that may actually see the big leagues sometime within the next 1-2 years. But it also contains two long-term prospects whose development is still in the infant stages. From a five-year minor-league veteran to a couple of players who began the 2006 season as teenagers, this group makes for an interesting portion of the top 50.
|Mike Wilson, OF|
|R/R||6-2/245||23||Draft, 2001-2nd Round (Lummus)||Inland Empire/San Antonio||119||449||.276||21||81||51||144||.360||.494||.854|
When the Mariners drafted Wilson and swayed him to forego football scholarship offers to play baseball, they were hoping the athlete in the Oklahoma native would take over and rise to the occasion.
Instead, Wilson stewed in Rookie ball for two years and didn’t reach the full-season level until his fourth year as a pro. Early on, there were major concerns about Wilson’s desire, work ethic and dedication to the game, as well as his ability to properly take instruction.
After miring in the lower minors since the last time the parent club made the postseason, Wilson, now 23, finally started to show something. It’s not enough to warrant the second-round selection, but the 6-2, 245-pounder is at least holding his own at the plate these days.
Wilson slugged .555 at Inland Empire last season, forcing the M’s to challenge him in the Texas League where he had his struggles but remained a power threat, despite issues making contact. He lacks quality plate discipline and pitch recognition while his bat speed is a notch about average for a slugger.
Wilson’s raw power has yet to be met by a solid approach at the plate and extended consistency. He’ll have to find room for both in 2007 if he wishes to even get a shot at big-league service. He also needs to learn to go the other way with more regularity.
The former switch-hitter holds very little defensive value, but does possess an above average throwing arm and decent accuracy, making it likely that any time in the majors would be spent as a part-time player or DH. His conditioning is also a concern for the Mariners.
Wilson could return to Double-A where he’d take on the pitchers in the Southern League, but has a shot to break spring training with Triple-A Tacoma.
|Michael Garciaparra, 2B|
|R/R||6-1/175||23||Draft, 2001-1st Round (Valenzuela)||AZ/San Antonio/Tacoma||74||257||.311||3||28||31||47||.399||.397||.796|
The Seattle Mariners have a habit of drafting or signing bloodlines. Diego and David Segui, Floyd and Brett Bannister, Jose Cruz Jr, Ken Griffey Sr, Jr and his brother Craig, Shawn and Jay Buhner, and Michael Garciaparra.
Being the younger brother of a potential future Hall-of-Famer, can’t be easy. Being the struggling kid sibling of a perennial all-star has to be tough. Michael won’t hear any of it, however, and has never made any excuses during his tenure in the organization. That tenure has been laced with empty offensive seasons and a laundry list of injuries that have limited the SoCal native to one season of 100 games or more, and just two of 80 or more games played.
Now 23, Garciaparra is building on success after hitting a combined .311 last season, including a .315/.422 line in Triple-A Tacoma. At 6-1 and 175 pounds carrying an anvil, Garciaparra still has trouble reaching the gaps consistently, but displayed that ability to much more satisfying levels last season. He’s always had a good eye and has learned to draw the walk and limit strikeouts.
The former prep soccer and football star is not a great base stealer but has above average speed for a middle infielder and uses his footspeed defensively where he’s a solid second baseman with adequate range and arm strength.
To reach the big leagues, Garciaparra must continue to get stronger in his upper and lower body and he must remain healthy for a full season. He’ll likely start the 2007 season as Tacoma’s starting second baseman and he may even hit in the first or second slot in the order where his solid on-base skills will play well around the likes of Adam Jones, Wladimir Balentien and Bryan LaHair.
His future is limited to reserve work, which may lead to the club playing him at other positions, including center field, as soon as he stays healthy for longer stretches.
|Luis Valbuena, 2B|
|R/R||5-10/190||21||UFA, Venezuela – 2002 (Carrasquel)||Wisconsin/Inland Empire||132||488||.275||5||38||58||70||.353||.387||.740|
Valbuena immediately reminded many of Carlos Baerga or fellow Mariners farmhand Ismael Castro. Baerga has a few inches and 20+ pounds on Valbuena, but both have thick lower bodies that influence their scouting reports.
Valbuena has good hands and footwork, but has below lateral quickness, particularly going to his right. His arm strength is adequate and he turns the double play just fine, but his lack of range is more than a concerns and may ultimately result in a move to left field, or force the Venezuelan to play multiple positions to prepare for a career as a utility player.
Offensively, the 21-year-old has a solid stroke from the left side and though he doesn’t switch hit, he handles pitchers from either side of the mound, hitting .324 versus LHPs last season, and .308 in his short career.
Valbuena has average plate skills altogether, due to lack of ability to hit situationally including the bunt, but he has above average strike zone judgment and can draw a walk (58 in 2006). He limits the strikeout to an extent, but his power (led the NWL in 2005) was zapped by legit ballparks and advanced pitching.
To reach the show, Valbuena has to hit and hit for plus power for a middle infielder/utility man. Conditioning hasn’t been a problem thus far, but may become a worry spot as he gets older.
Look for Valbuena to start the 2007 campaign with High Desert, where he has a chance to rake his way into the top 20 with a big year at the plate. The Cal League is a hitter’s paradise anyways, but High Desert is among the top three ballparks and evironments in which to hit.
|Alex Liddi, 3B|
|R/R||6-4/185||18||UFA, Italy – 2005 (Norton/Mazzotti)||Peoria/Wisconsin||58||220||.291||3||27||13||56||.329||.450||.779|
The only thing “wrong” about Liddi’s profile is that he doesn’t bat lefthanded. He’s the youngest player in the top 30, stands 6-4 and weighs 185 – already – and possesses solid all-around athletic skills that suggest he could stick at the hot corner, a big bonus, and could make an easy transition to the outfield if necessary.Liddi also has above average bat speed and a good understanding of the game of baseball. The Italian Stallion even put all those tools to good use in his first season in the states, hitting .291 and slugging .450 combined between the Rookie and Midwest Leagues.
How much power Liddi will develop is the big question. Can he continue to sharpen his plate skills year after year and turn into a Joe Crede or even David Wright in terms of home run power? Will his strike zone judgment follow suit to allow him to maintain a high average while he’s mashing for power?
His skills are still raw yet, so those questions will have to wait to be answered, but there’s nothing weak about Liddi’s game thus far. He has a long ways to go but he has all the natural tools to become a legitimate third base prospect over the next few years, a position that is in dire need of some depth in the M’s farm system.
Liddi has good footwork and soft hands, and throws the ball very accurately for the most part, but has been seen rushing throws to get faster runners or when he’s trying to do too much. His arm strength is more than adequate.
“I like his feet,” said an AL scout who first saw Liddi as a 15-year-old in Europe. “He’s probably going to be a kig kid when he’s done growing but if he keeps the feet, he can play third. And his arm is fine, although his release point is sometimes kinda wacky… that’s a normal thing for a teenager.”
“With the bat,” the scout continued, “he’ll just have to work his rear-end off to learn to hit the inside fastball and still cover the entire plate. But again, it’s rare for a kid this age to not have problems with that stuff. I wouldn’t worry so much about the strikeouts as long he continues to hit the ball hard in the gaps. The long balls will come as he gets stronger and that swing gets more consistent.”
Liddi may begin his 2007 season back where he ended last year – Wisconsin in the Midwest League – but spring workouts will determine exactly where the Mariners go with him, as well as a dozen other young talents. I’d be surprised, however, if he didn’t see a lot of time with skipper Jim Horner and the T-Rats.
|Oswaldo Navarro, 2B/SS|
|S/R||6-0/165||22||UFA, Venezuela – 2001 (Carrasquel/Avila)||San Antonio/Tacoma||134||449||.258||3||45||58||90||.348||.332||.680|
Navarro is among the last of the light-hitting, slick-fielding middle infielders the club scooped up over the past five years, and he might actually reach the majors as a full-time reserve. When Asdrubal Cabrera was traded to the Cleveland Indians last summer, Navarro moved up on the depth chart and left the Mariners with fewer options at shortstop.
While Yuniesky Betancourt has the position locked up for the next handful of seasons, Navarro does provide the Mariners with insurance should they need it at either spot up the middle. The Venezuela native has exceptional hands and flawless footwork to go with an adequate throwing arm and above average range.Navarro’s shortcomings are all offensively where he has always been among the youngest regulars in his league and found himself in that position again in 2006, where he hit .246 in Triple-A Tacoma.
Lacking even gap power, Navarro’s offensive game is all about small ball; bunting, slap hitting and the occasional walk is about all he’s capable of at this stage.
“He’s got to do something in the weight room,” said an AL scout. “He’s very solid defensively and if he could just get by with the bat, he’d be a prospect. He started to stretch it out a bit in A ball, but he’s been moved so quickly, he hasn’t been able to keep up.”I think, at his best, he’s a marginal major league guy,” the scout continued. “I think he’s a reserve infielder, but he needs more time to put it together at the plate.”
Navarro is going to return to Triple-A Tacoma as their starting shortstop, teaming with Michael Garciaparra up the middle. He could again see a cup of joe in the show if the need for a defender arises via injury.
|Carlos Peguero, OF|
|L/L||6-5/210||20||UFA, Dom. Republic – 2005 (Engle, Guerrero)||Peoria/Everett||59||229||.269||9||39||15||83||.318||.520||.838|
The Mariners are laced with young, high-ceiling, high-risk talents in short-season and low A ball, and Peguero may have the highest offensive ceiling of them all. He shared the rookie league lead in home runs before getting a taste of the Northwest League.
Peguero, like Gerardo Avila and most other kids in the system, must learn to make consistent contact and his 83 whiffs in 256 PAs are proof of that. He has yet to improve on his skill to work the count, but he has raw power that rivals any in the entire system, including Wladimir Balentien.
Peguero has enough athletic ability to play a corner outfield spot but could end up at first base where his bat may play well enough. If it does, the Mariners could be sitting pretty with a power-hitting lefty. But the Dominican native has holes in his swing that won’t be easy to correct.
His long, uppercut swing must be adjusted and Peguero must learn to trust his natural strength in lieu of trying to serve the ball over the fences. He’s also got less patience than a physician with a dozen malpractice suits pending, so he’ll have to develop a better overall approach, preferably one that doesn’t zap his raw power.
Like many inexperienced bats, Peguero needs to learn to control the strike zone and put himself into better hitters counts. His future is still up in the air, but he’s a longshot to reach the big leagues and he’ll get a chance to make a mark form himself versus even competition in the Midwest League in 2007 – which is where he’s most likely to begin the upcoming season.
|Ryan Rowland-Smith, LHP|
|L/L||6-3/211||24||UFA, Australia – 2000 (Holland)||Inland Empire/San Antonio||30/1||47.2||1-4||3.21||20||57||.265||1.07||3||.586|
Rowland-Smith has been an interesting southpaw since signing six years ago out of Australia and has had an adventurous route to his current 40-man status. He began his career in the bullpen, made 26 starts, then went back to the bullpen. In 2005 he was a rule 5 selection of the Minnesota Twins.
RRS pitched well enough for the Twins to consider bringing him along when camp broke, but instead tried to offer the Mariners a check and an A ball prospect in order to keep him. The M’s said no thanks and Rowland-Smith went on to make 17 more starts in AA that summer.
The 6-3, 210-pounder profiles best in relief, and that’s where he spent the vast majority of his season in 2006 – with the exception of the one start he made late in the year – but not until he recovered from an injury suffered over the offseason.RRS goes after hitters with a 90-92 mph fastball that occasionally touches 94, and compliments the heat with pretty solid breaking ball and a useful change. His change has been better in the past and is likely to return to its stature as the best pitch in his arsenal.
Rowland-Smith has always been able to get the strikeout, posting a 9.15 K/9 in six seasons as a pro, and typically limits the dreaded base on balls (3.41 BB/9). But he is certainly better in relief and has a chance to turn his slightly above average stuff into a long big league career.
He’s adept at getting out the lefthanded bats (.216 BAA) and while righties hit .299/.371 against him last season, they slugged just .388. Rowland-Smith isn’t a ground ball specialist, but he’s also not a severe fly ball pitcher.
His mechanics are solid and if he stays healthy his work on a cut fastball may be enough versus righthanded hitters to push him into the majors in 2007. In the meantime, he’ll likely start the season in Triple-A Tacoma as a late-inning relief option.
|Cesar Jimenez, LHP
|L/L||6-0/200||22||UFA, Venezuela – 2001 ( Carrasquel)||San Antonio/Tacoma||27/22||123.2||5-12||4.15||60||76||.255||1.24||8||.500|
“Hmmm, Cesar Jimenez, eh? He’s that soft-tossing left-hander, right?” asked an Oklahoma City Redhawks infielder. “Yeah, I think we saw him down in Texas… yeah, we nailed him every time,” said an OKC teammate who also played in the Texas League in 2005.”Nah, that wasn’t him was it?” asked the infielder. “This guy killed us once and we got him some the second time I saw him.”Player 2: “He’s hit or miss, yeah, we shouldn’t have a problem with him… not after three or four.”
That was two PCL opponents’ recollection of Mr. Jimenez and they were spot on. Jimenez is on and off, hit or miss and can’t seem to hold onto gems after the first third of the game.
His BAA after his first inning of work last season was .298, up .58 points from the .240 he allowed in his initial inning. After his second frame, Jimenez allowed a .366 batting average against and his slugging against rose to well over .500 (.522). These are simpy signs that he’s incapable of starting regularly, even in AAA, let alone the big leagues.
The 22-year-old southpaw has a career ERA that stands at 4.55 as a starter and 3.38 as a reliever. Typically, according to Mariners minor league pitching coordinator Pat Rice, Jimenez “pushes the velocity some when he’s coming out of the pen.”
With a fastball anywhere from 84 to 89 miles per hour and a change-up that has its moments as an above-average pitch, the Venezuelan, who can lay claim to being one of the closest friends of King Felix Hernandez, has to work both sides of the plate and mix up his pitches in order to be successful. He’s not a ground ball pitcher but does usually keep the ball down enough to limit the home runs, as his career 0.58 HR/9 ratio strongly suggests.
His slider is decent but needs improvement if he’s to be more than a situational relief option. He’s not particularly good against lefthanded bats but doesn’t give up the extra-base hit much to hitters in either side of the batter’s box, suggesting that he could develop into a decent middle relief option, especially when considering that his arm can be stretched out a bit.
His future is yet to be determined as he could spend the next several years shuffling between Tacoma and Seattle, or he could find himself out of baseball after a few more years. But Jimenez is young enough to build on what could be a decent career as a reliever.
He’ll start his 2007 season back in Triple-A, where he’s certainly going back to the bullpen where he belongs. Hitting his spots and avoiding his typically high walk rates is his first and foremost obstacle.
|Austin Bibens-Dirkx, RHP|
|R/R||6-2/190||21||Draft, 2006 – 16th Round||Eve/Tac/Wis||29/0||38.1||2-2||1.64||9||49||.193||0.82||0||.727|
When I made calls to ask scouts and coaches about Bibens-Dirkx, I was expecting some to like him because of his delivery and some to think he was a just a short-term novelty that couldn’t get anyone out consistently above AA ball.But the common theme ended up being an extremely bold consensus from the group of about a half-dozen in which I spoke.
“He hides that ball better than any sidewinder I have ever seen,” said one scout. “And when I say sidewinder, what I’m saying is that he isn’t a submariner, not like Quisenberry. Those guys have an advantage when it comes to deception; the ball is behind them for so long and then wham! The ball explodes on the hitter, even if it’s only at 86 or 87 miles per hour. Sidearm guys show the ball sooner, usually. This kid has a little subtle pause or hitch with his wrist and the ball that gives him an extra split-second to fool the hitter.”
Another scout, a former relief pitcher who spent seven seasons with the San Diego Padres, thinks the M’s 16th round pick in last year’s draft has a chance to be a major league arm.
“Dirkx has gotten good reports from everyone I have talked to,” he said. “He’s not a closer type and probably not a setup guy either, but he has a pretty good chance to get outs at that level (majors) and it’s not just because he throws all screwy and hitters are fooled. The big-league bats hit everybody with ordinary stuff. He’s got a little bit better stuff than that.”
Bibens-Dirkx is a sinker-slider guy with a penchant for the ground ball, though he didn’t put up the G/F ratios in his first season in pro ball. His sinking fastball sits in the 85-88 mph range with plus movement – that he can adjust to accomodate a pitch to either side of the dish – and his slider is average to a tick above average by most accounts.
The Mariners have a pretty tough decision to make with Bibens-Dirkx, as to where he starts the 2007 season. He spent 28 games in A ball last summer, 25 of those in the Midwest League where batters managed just a .198/.221/.303 line against him. He posted a promising 49-9 K/BB ratio in his three stops that included two shutout frames in Triple-A Tacoma that resulted in five strikeouts.
It’s likely that Bibens-Dirkx lands in High Desert to start the year, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets the nod to jump to the Southern League to give him a challenge. In the end, I expect the first true sidearmer I have ever seen in the Mariners system to see Safeco Field as early August or September, depending on the status of the big club. His future may ultimately be very much like that of a Chad Bradford who spent four seasons with the Oakland A’s.
|Craig James, RHP
|R/R||6-2/210||24||UFA, Miami, FLA – 2003 (Grifol)||San Antonio||43/0||62||4-3||2.61||33||56||.237||1.21||3||.457|
Another strong season for James in 2006 has pushed him into a major contention for the Triple-A Tacoma roster this spring. The 24-year-old right-hander spent last year with Double-A San Antonio and logged 72 innings allowing just 65 hits and only three long balls.James operates off a fastball in the 89-92 mph range and a slider that peaks as an above-average pitch. His numbers from last season are a little bit deceiving. He was terrible in April – .319/.407/.489 – and August – .390/.519/.512, but was nothing less than stellar in between.
In May, June and July, James posted a .172 BAA and gave up just 24 hits in 40 frames. He also fanned 38. His crutch may be his lack of consistent command that led to a below-average BB/9 ratio of 4.88. James does get a decent amount of ground balls by keeping the ball in the lower half of the strike zone and not missing up with the breaking ball.
An interesting story from day one, James has come a long way to get where he’s about to be, which is probably just one step away from the show.
In 2001, Craig James was a just-drafted high school senior when he felt pain in his right elbow. He was originally diagnosed with tendonitis. The Giants selected James with the 496th pick overall (16th round), but soon after, found a glitch in their new pitcher’s armour.
The Giants insisted on a more thorough exam on James’ elbow and would not let him pitch in the rookie league where they had originally assigned him after the finishing touches were put on the player’s contract.
“I got the MRI back and the Giants doctor told me, ‘Bad news'” James told InsidethePark.com in 2005. “‘You have a partially torn Medial Collateral Ligament in your elbow. It is 33 percent torn.'”
James was informed that surgery was necessary, but that wasn’t the end of the issue. The Giants then terminated his contract, claiming he withheld information from the team concerning his elbow. In a span of less than a week, James was drafted, signed and sent back home to Miami with a future as in doubt as can possibly be thought. He needed surgery, wanted to play baseball again, but his resources for both were seemingly dry.
Until Dr. John Uribe, who had initially diagnosed James with simple tendonitis, offered to perform the procedure free of charge. Less than two years later, James signed a free agent deal with the Mariners, and has made good on his opportunities.
“I knew that baseball was not over for me. I have that fight in me,” James said.
I guess he was right, because three years later and James is putting himself in a good spot. It’s tough to guarantee that James wins a spot on the Rainiers roster, but he’s certainly ready for the challenge and it makes more sense to challenge James and see what he’s got than it does, well not doing that. James’ future is probably as a Jon Huber-level relief pitcher, but must vastly improve his control if he wants to get outs in the PCL.
Photo Credits: Austin Bibens-Dirkx – PaulMPhotography.comOswaldo Navarro – Getty ImagesGraphic – Darren Gossler