Prospect Rankings: 11-19* (Completed)
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on February 18, 2007
As we approach the main course, the top 10, the potatoes and gravy may prove to be a valuable portion of the Mariners farm system. Prospects 11-19 consists of three arms with big-league experience and a number of quality talents that could help the parent club as early as this season.
The M’s scouting director, Bob Fontaine, wanted to add some promising arms to the system as he headed into the past three drafts. He vowed not to reach, but believed he could get value after the first few rounds.
So far, so good, as the draft has turned up a handful of useful arms, some of whom may make their major league debuts in 2007. But the 2003 draft is the star of this next group, with two solid left-handers ready to contribute in the majors.
A certain few of Fontaine’s top draftees are on the hot seat this season, one of which has fallen from the top 10, and nearly out of the top 20 completely. In fact, he would have been in the 21-30 range, has the Mariners not traded Yorman Bazardo and had Mark Lowe not undergone such a grueling, unknown surgical procedure on his elbow.
Strengths: Tuiasosopo has above-average athleticism and the physical ability to defend either corner spot, infield and outfield. His work ethic rates very high and his teammates and coaches like his approach to the game. The 20-year-old has good raw power and above-average bat speed.
Weaknesses: Despite the tools to be a top prospect, Tui has yet to learn the art of hitting and has struggled hitting the inside fastball, which would explain why his power numbers disappeared last summer.
Defensively, his move from shortstop to third helped, but he’s a much better fit in left or right field where his footwork and arm strength are both a better match.
Hitting for Average (On-base skills): With solid hand-eye coordination and an aggressive approach, Tui can handle equal-level pitching, at least in the batting average department. Hitting nearly .300 in the Cal League is proof of that.
But the lack of strike zone judgment and trouble with breaking balls that hindered his production in Double-A a year ago will continue to be a problem area until he learns to hit the hard stuff.
Hitting for Power: The day Tui develops average to above average pitch recognition is the day he starts hitting for consistent power. It’s a double-edged sword; he struggles with the sliders on the outer half, so he leans out to protect the corners away. Then he gets busted in with the hard stuff and is either caught looking, or he fists a weak grounder or pop-up.
He must learn to turn on the fastball, control the strike zone and lay off the breaking balls out of the zone. Any improvement in these areas will show up in the box score.
Baserunning: Tui is an above-average runner but is not much of a base stealing threat.
He’s about par for the level as far as skills go, but needs to get better at taking the extra base and being aggressive in the right situations.
Glove: At shortstop, Tui can field, he’s just got below average range and footwork and has issues making the necessary throws. At third, he lacks the reactionary instincts to be anything more than average. A move to right field is inevitable and may help his overall game.
Arm: The former prep quarterback has a strong arm and average accuracy. From the outfield, however, his arm strength would be utilized better and he could avoid throwing off balance.
Future: After the massive scuffling that took place offensively in San Antonio last summer, Tui needs a soft landing to begin the 2007 season, which he may get in a potential return to the Cal League. Had he not experienced the tough stint in the Texas League, all we’d be complaining about is a lack of pop, which is an ever-developing skill for young players.
He has a long ways to climb, but his ceiling is still as a regular in the show, albeit as a more of long-shot now than he was a year ago.
Strengths: Varvaro employs five pitches and has convinced the Mariners to allow him to choose any three of them in which to focus. With a plus fastball, two breaking balls, a change and a split-finger, he’s well equipped as a starting pitcher.
Weaknesses: After elbow surgery, it’s unrealistic to expect a full return to form, at least early in 2007. Varvaro is just 6-feet and 190 pounds, allowing for durability questions to be asked. His command needs improvement.
Fastball: Sitting 91-95 mph pre-surgery, Vavaro was clocked in the 89-92 mph range last summer in Peoria. The four-seamer has good life to it, and most believe he’ll have no problems in the velocity department.
Curve Ball: As his third best pitch, Varvaro’s curve ball is of the 12-6 variety with decent depth and break. In his short stint in pro ball last season, he did show the ability to throw the curve for strikes.
Changeup: Perhaps any pitchers most important offering, Vavaro has good feel for his change, but inconsistent arm action have him favoring another straight offering in change-up type situations. His change sits in the 84-87 range, a few mphs off the ideal velocity from a low-90s heater.
Slider: In shorter stints, Varvaro’s slider shows a sharp, downward break late in its flight. It’s a solid strikeout pitch that he goes to when he’s looking to miss bats. The slider was clocked in the 87-88 range last summer, though he wasn’t throwing many of them yet.
Splitter: Varvaro sometimes replaces his change with a true split-finger that sits in the 87-88 mph range, much like that of former Mariners farmhand Francisco Cruceta. It’s clearly his best out pitch and is likely to be one of the three or four offering he keeps in his arsenal, along with the fastball, curve and slider.
Command: Varvaro’s never displayed above average control, not even in college where he regularly produced 4+ BB/9 rates. He’ll need more consistent efforts in throwing strikes if he’s to succeed in the upper levels of pro ball. Paring down his repertoire will help him with his consistency.
Mechanics/Delivery: Varvaro has a pseudo-Tom Gordon style delivery, staying balanced and level from both the windup and the stretch. He throws from a 5/8 arm slot which should aid in his efforts to stave off further elbow problems.
Future: The St. John’s product has the stuff to start in the big leagues, but will need to prove that his elbow is not going to hold him back. In a relief role, his three-pitch combo could be devastating in a setup or closer’s role. It’s crucial for Varvaro to establish a tighter group of pitches and stick to them, regardless of potential struggles with command.
If all goes well, Varvaro is a No. 3 or 4 starter in the show, with a career as a good middle reliever as a backup plan. If his stuff remains, he’s also a candidate for short relief in the late innings.
Strengths: If you talk to Travis Blackley and ask him what he thinks his strengths are, his answers would reflect the exact thoughts of scouts if you asked them the same question: Aggressive, throws strikes, smart, confident.
Blackley has a swagger about him that transcends his entire approach to pitching. He’s got three quality pitches that rate average or better when he’s 100 percent healthy, and his pick-off move is as good as there is.
Weaknesses: Blackley lacks dominating stuff and at times his attack is more like that of a power pitcher and can hurt him at times. Much of his current downside is a result of labrum surgery performed in February, 2005, and following a solid comeback season last year, the 24-year-old is running out of time to prove his worth in the organization.
Fastball: Travis uses a four-seam fastball and a cutter that sits anywhere from 85 to 89 mph, touching 90 on occasion. Now two years off the surgery, his velocity could return to a more consistent slot in the high-80s. The cutter is his favorite pitch that induces a league-leading number of broken bats.
Curve Ball: Blackley’s curve ball may be more important to his success than any of his offerings, and more than marginal improvement could be the key to his return to the show. At its best, Blackley’s curve has decent depth and is effective on either side of the plate.
Changeup: Throwing a plus change is essential if Blackley is to be more than a mediocre big leaguer, so it’s probably a good thing he employs such a pitch. He did have some issues with getting a feel for it last year and keeping consistent arm action, but in his second year back, his change should become more effective.
Slider: Blackley’s slider is a variation of the cutter he throws, and has more of a tail to it than a true break. But it is effective, particularly against left-handers, and typically sits in the 84-86 mph range.
Command: Although some might think otherwise, Blackley’s control has never been perfect, though at times he displays pinpoint accuracy in the cutter and curve ball. In order to maximize his effectiveness, Blackley must sustain the 2.81 BB/9 ratio he put up in San Antonio last season, which is better than his career mark of 3.33.
Mechanics/Delivery: Except when his shoulder was producing intolerable pain, Blackley has always been smooth and nearly flawless in his mechanics, keeping a strong balance with his lower and upper body and fluid arm motion.
His natural arm slot is between a 5/8 and 4/5 angle and assists him in hiding the ball some, behind his front shoulder.
Future: His return to the majors would be imminent had he been lucky enough to be signed by a ball club that was willing to rebuild when the time is right to do so. Instead of battling it out with Cha Seung Baek, Jake Woods and a few other prospects for the fifth spot in the rotation, Blackley will head back to Triple-A Tacoma where he ended the 2006 campaign.
He’s probably not first in line to get the call, but could put himself in that position with a strong start to the season.
With shoulder issues behind him, a spot in the majors as a fourth starter is still an attainable goal for the left-hander.
Strengths: O’Flaherty has starter’s stuff and an aggressive approach to pitching. He’s good versus left-handed bats but can be equally as ornery against righties, using a cutter that bores in on them. His command is solid and he doesn’t have any long ball tendencies.
Weaknesses: O’Flaherty needs to improve the command of his off-speed stuff, and avoid leaving anything up in the zone. To sustain success in the big leagues, he must get lefties out with regularity to remain valuable.
The 22-year-old has had some mild back problems in his short career, but the move to the pen seems to have eased the issue. It will always be a concern, however, as he starts the grind of a 162-game season with more travel and a heavier workload.
Fastball: The Walla Walla native sits in the 89-92 mph range with his four-seam fastball, and, like Blackley, employs a cutter that acts as a slider against both lefties and righties. When he’s right, neither pitch is predictable and they create a lot of weak contact.
Curve Ball: A little flat at certain times and too slurvy at others, O’Flaherty doesn’t typically go to his breaking ball all that often. It’s a useful offering but in relief his two fastballs and the change give him plenty to work with.
He may need the breaking ball to improve, however, to give him another option should he work two or more innings.
Changeup: Not a plus pitch by any means, but EO’s change is effective because of the good arm action and consistent release point. It sits in the 81-83 mph range, which is 7-9 mph off his fastball, and he’s adept at keeping the pitch down in the zone.
Command: O’Flaherty’s control has always been solid, though there is room for improvement. In relief, big league clubs prefer a BB/9 of less than 2.5, which is where O’Flaherty was at both Inland Empire and Tacoma last season. His stint in San Antonio produced a 3.43 mark, which isn’t terrible by any stretch.
He does have issues staying consistent with his curve and change, but he throws 70 percent fastballs so walks aren’t a big issue. He’s also able to stay on the corners for the most part, limiting the home run ball.
Mechanics/Delivery: O’Flaherty has a natural reliever’s delivery that helps him hide the ball and explode through his release point. There has been talk in the past about tinkering with where he plants his front foot, but he’s been too effective to start messing with things mid-season.
Future: O’Flaherty is a surefire big leaguer, and has a chance to break camp with the parent club this spring. He’ll have to beat out veteran Arthur Rhodes, as it’s highly unlikely the Mariners will carry three lefthanders in the bullpen.
His future is likely as a middle relief option with the possibility that he becomes a go-to-guy against the tough lefties late in games. Starting isn’t completely out of the question, but that won’t happen in Seattle.
Strengths: Chen does a lot of things pretty well, including run, field, throw, hit for average, and he isn’t powerless at the plate. He’s a smart, instincual player who is getting better every season and could find himself in the big leagues by year’s end. His best attribute with the bat is his ability to make consistent contact.
Weaknesses: Chen is adequate in many areas but lacks a plus tool, particularly offensively, that might make him a future regular. At times he settles for the single when a more aggressive approach at the plate might result in an extra-base hit. As he tries not to overswing, he limits his power.
There is more in his swing than the numbers have suggested, though he’s put up some solid lines the past two seasons. He’ll have to maximize his offensive potential to be a major league asset, and to do that he must sharpen his skills in all areas, specifically his plate patience and middle infield defense.
Hitting for Average (On-base skills): Chen makes a lot of contact and his numbers are proof of that. After hitting .342/.388 at Inland Empire, the 23-year-old infielder posted .295/.365 marks in the pitcher friendly Texas League.
He doesn’t draw a lot of walks, but nearly matched his strikeout totals with the base on balls with the Missions. Ge probably hits too many ground balls right now, but that can change as he perfects a swing that has double written all over it.
Hitting for Power: Eight home runs is nothing to brag about, but Chen also pounded out 26 doubles and five triples in 107 games, totals that suggest Chen may hit big-league pitching within the next few years.
He’s not likely to ever be more than a 10-12 homer guy in the show, but, like many young players, power can continue to develop as the approach and skills improve with maturity and experience. Chen is no different and may produce more power in the majors if the rest of his offensive games improves markedly.
Baserunning: Chen is a very good baserunner, maybe the best in the system and his above-average to plus speed is only one reason why he’s racked up 66 steals and 81 extra-base hits in his three years with the organization.
He’s very aggressive and rarely makes mistakes on the bases, which bodes well for his future role.
Glove: Chen can play a little shortstop, but lacks the necessary range and footwork to play there regularly. He’s above-average at second, but needs to clean up the mistakes in technique and footwork around the bag at second.
Third base is his best defensive position, but his bat plays best at second where his lack of power and solid on-base skills are best suited.
Arm: Adequate for short, below average for third and a tick above average for second, Chen qualifies at each spot for part-time duty. He makes all the throws from second and third and can make the throw after fielding a bunt on the run.
Future: Chen is a mutli-tooled infielder with decent offensive abilities who may have to learn to play some outfield to enhance his chanes of sticking in the big leagues. It’s hard to see him hitting enough to earn a starting spot anywhere but he could become a pretty solid bench player who serves as a pinch hitter, defensive replacement and pinch runner.
Strengths: Rohrbaugh is not “just like all the other soft-tossing southpaws” as many have complained when inquiring about the M’s seventh round pick in the 2005 draft. He attacks with the fastball and is consistent in throwing strikes. There isn’t much finesse in his game, unless necessary.
His approach is sound and his mental makeup is probably why the Mariners thought so highly of him coming out of Clemson.
Rohrbaugh has solid-average stuff, above-average command and has the physical build of a starting pitcher. He also has a slight groundball tendency that could improve with better command of his secondary offerings.
Weaknesses: Rohrbaugh, atypically, was lit up by left-handed bats at Double-A San Antonio last year (.324), even after a strong showing in the Cal League (.200). He needs further development of his slider to gain an edge in this area.
After the promotion, his command was spotty as well, although that doesn’t appear to be a long-term problem for the 23-year-old.
Naturally, he must continue to shore up his off-speed stuff and get better at finishing off hitters once he gets them down to their last strike.
Fastball: Sitting in the 86-90 range with a four-seamer and using a two-seamer on occasion, Rohrbaugh is a fastball pitcher who truly uses his off-speed stuff as complimentary offerings.
He’s not going to blow anyone away, not even at the AA or AAA levels, but he’s already adept at pitching to his strengths and getting outs in an efficient manner and that starts with his fastball.
Curve Ball: Rohrbaugh’s curve ball is his best pitch when it’s on, but he’s fairly inconsistent with it and can hang it on occasion. The pitch needs more depth and his arm action may need an adjustment in order to maximize the effectiveness.
Changeup: Rohrbaugh’s out pitch is a change-up in the 81-83 mph range, and his change-fastball differential is very consistent, giving him a leg up on pitchers with better true action on their change.
Command: Rohrbaugh throws strikes consistently and regularly, and his only control problems come later in games when he’s laboring or being forced to throw anything but the fastball more often than he’s accustomed.
His polish shows up in his overall control numbers, but he’ll be challenged to sustain his success against better hitters in Triple-A and beyond.
Mechanics/Delivery: Nothing to complain about here, as Rohrbaugh’s mechanics are sound, highlighted by a smooth release and landing. His 5/8 arm angle provides a solid opportunity for him to develop a better slider, which is currently his fourth best pitch.
Future: The left-hander is another in a long line of potential fourth or fifth starters in the M’s system, but he has less risk attached than many of his compadres and predecessors. He may be able to help the big club within a year, but he’s likely to start the 2007 campaign back in AA, this time in a hitter-friendly environment at West Tennessee.
Strengths: Most of what Johnson brings to the table is in the form of defense, intelligence and work ethic, and normall that wouldn’t be enough. But, the Montana native is a catcher.
Johnson handles the position well and his bat is better than he showed last season in the PCL, after being rushed through the system. He’s a good athlete, and in a year or two, his defense will be big-league ready.
Weaknesses: Johnson’s offensive game is probably never going to be better than average for his position, but he did hit .314/.381/.443 in the Cal League in 2005, suggesting he’s not hopeless at the plate.
He does have some fine-tuning to do behind the dish, but the skills are all there.
Hitting for Average (On-base skills): Johnson is capable of making contact at a satisfactory level, and even afrer hitting just .231 at Triple-A Tacoma last season, his 74 strikeouts in 360 Pas isn’t a worrysome total.
But the pitching in the PCL exposed his strike zone judgment and plate patience, leading to just 13 walks.
Hitting for Power: The raw power in Johnson’s swing is enough to produce 8-12 long balls and 20-25 doubles at the next level. The issue will be how well he adjusts to the better pitching he saw last season after his 34 extra-base hit summer in ’05.
Johnson’s offense may take a little time, and his moderate power is probably going to be the last thing to fully develop.
Baserunning: Johnson runs well for a catcher and above average overall. He swiped 14 bags last year and is 33 for 46 in 221 career games.
He isn’t likely to retain his natural footspeed after all the time spent crouching behind the plate, but he’s a smart player and that is carried forward in his time on the bases.
Glove: If you watched Johnson everyday last season you can see the tools he has and his understanding of the catcher’s position. If you showed up and saw scattered starts by the 23-year-old, you may think he’s an average defender at very best.
With young catchers, it’s all about repitition and the work that’s done on the side, in between games. And in quarters of the season, Johnson got better.
“He’s already where we want Jeff (Clement) to be in a year or so,” said Mariners catching coordinator Roger Hansen. “Jeff has some catching up to do, and though he’ll get there, Rob has more natural skills that are helping him along the way.”
Arm: Some scouts see Johnson’s arm as about average in strength and below average in accuracy, and while the latter may be true today, it’s almost certain to grade much higher once Johnson is ready for the big leagues.
His technique is sound, but he’s still climbing the consistency ladder. Once he can repeat his motion every time, his accuracy will improve exponentially, allowing him to let it fly and show max arm strength.
Future: Despite his mighty struggles at the plate last year, Johnson still has a decent chance to turn into a starting catcher in the big leagues. His defense will have to carry him, however, making it imperative that he continues to sharpen his defensive skills.
He could return to Triple-A Tacoma for another tour around the PCL, but the word on the street is that he may head to West Tennessee to give his bat a chance to develop properly.
Strengths: Huber, who came over in the trade with the San diego Padres in return for Dave Hansen on July 30, 2004, has made a successful transition from useless starting pitcher to effective middle reliever.
He throws strikes with his fastball and slider and thanks to his days in the rotation, he can give the club multiple innings per outing.
Weaknesses: While Huber has above average stuff, he does lack a quality third pitch that he can go to, forcing him to overuse his slider at times. It’s probably in his best interest, according to some of the organization’s pitching coaches, that he trust his fastball more. Adding a viable two-seamer might be in his future.
Too much of a good thing can be a detriment.
Fastball: Huber’s fastball is a tick above average in velocity and has decent lateral movement. Sitting in the 89-92 mph range and touching 94 on rare occasions, the 25-year-old’s four-seamer has enough zip to set up his offspeed stuff.
Slider: Huber’s best pitch is his 84-86 mph slider with near-curve ball depth and a slurvy, late break. He will throw it in any count and sometimes gets carried away, throwing it four and five times consecutively.
Changeup: Probably the only reason Huber struggles a bit in a starting role is the lack of an effective changeup.
“It’s a feel pitch, of course, so it does take time to get down,” said a former big-league right-hander, now scouting for the Chicago White Sox. “I saw Huber earlier in his career and it looked like he might have a useful version, but he’s slowed down with it, if not shelved it altogether from the pen.”
Command: Huber is a perfect example of a pitcher greatly benefitting from the move into the bullpen, and his control showed marked improvement. As a starter, Huber walked just under four batters per nine innings of work. In relief, he’s walked about half as many, allowing just under two bases on balls per nine.
He gave up just three home runs in more than 80 innings combined last year, displaying his ability to locate his fastball and keep his slider down in the zone on a regular basis.
Mechanics/Delivery: Huber has a near-perfect motion showing balance and fluid arm action. While minor adjustments are always at hand with young arms, Huber has no pressing issues with his typically consistent mechanics.
Future: Huber is the new Julio Mateo, circa 2004, so to speak; throws strikes, can get outs in consistent stints, but probably isn’t suited for a setup role. He can miss bats at an adequate rate, but he’s not going to dominate lineups on aregular basis.
It’s not out of the question that Huber gets another shot at starting, but his best chance in the big leagues is as a 2+ inning reliever. He has a very good chance to break camp on the 25-man roster, and, in fact, it would be surprising if he spent any time in the minors in 2007.
Strengths: Kahn is an aggressive, attacking power pitcher with a plus fastball and a breraking ball that has improved each year beginning with his final year at Loyola Marymount.
With ideal size and a closer’s mentality, Kahn is well-suited for late-inning relief, reminding some of John Wetteland or Todd Worrell.
Weaknesses: Simply put, Kahn is inconsistent. He’s had trouble sustaining command of his fastball and his curve ball isn’t a good enough offering at this stage to carry him through at-bats.
Fastball: Sitting in the 93-97 mph range and even hitting 98 or 99 at times, thereis plenty of zip in Kahn’s heater. What keeps the pitch from catching an 80 grade on the 20-80 scale is the spotty command in which Kahn treats his fastball.
A problem that started in college in 2005, Kahn will leave his fastball up in the zone and its lack of movement allows mucho damage. The Mariners have not indicated whether Kahn is a candidate for an effective two-seamer, or if they are simply planning physical adjustments in order to combat the problem.
Curve: Graded an average pitch at draft time, Kahn’s curve ball has gained depth and shown a later break since, but is still inconsistently thrown. Perhaps a change in grip or arm slot is in order.
Changeup: Kahn has never thrown a true change in the presence of yours truly, and I can’t find anyone outside the organization that knows whether he has one or not. The club claims he has a split-style change that is about 7-8 mph off his fastball., and that it’s a “decent pitch that he just doesn’t have confidence in at this time.”
Command: This is where Kahn, a potential closer and Top 10 Prospect, loses his luster. After a collegiate career where he walked more than five batters per nine innings, Kahn has slipped to 6.38BB/9 as pro, and will certainly be the defining factor in his career on the mound.
His home run rates dropped to solid levels at 0.33 and 0.69 at Class A Inland Empire and Double-A San Antonio, showing signs of overall improvement, but there’s a lot more room for Kahn to get better in this area.
If he can reach average levels, his future is going to be very bright.
Mechanics/Delivery: Typical of a power pitcher, Kahn’s delivery is somewhat violent, including his arm action. He’s had very little – if any issues with a sore elbow or shoulder, however, suggesting that his body’s torque is closer to naturals for the 6-3, 220-pound hurler.
Future: Kahn has work to do and it’s unclear where he’ll begin his journey to the big leagues; Double-A West Tennessee makes the most sense but he wouldn’t be completely overmatched in Triple-A Tacoma, either.
The money is on a return to Double-A where Kahn must show vast improvement with his fastball command and overall consistency. If all goes as planned, he’ll find himself in the big leagues by year’s end.
Ultimately, Kahn has the stuff to close in the show, but should at least provide quality innings late in games.
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