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No. 2 – Jeff Clement, C

Posted by Jason A. Churchill on March 24, 2007

When the Mariners took the, umm, telephone, and made the third overall selection in the 2005 First Year Players Draft, there was very little doubt about which few talents they were strongly considering. The draft’s two best talents – Alex Gordon and Justin Upton – were already gone, and the Mariners needed to nail the selection while adding depth to their farm system and a can’t miss bat to their lineup.

With rumors of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and OF Cameron Maybin, the Mariners believed their “need” player matched their “best available” player, and selected Jeff Clement, an offensive catcher from the University of Southern California.

Since then, Maybin has become among the top 10 prospects in baseball, Tulowitzki has earned a starting role in the big leagues, and several others that were taken after Clement have seen much brighter days, including Milwaukee’s slugger Ryan Braun (No. 5), Boston outfielder Jacob Ellsbury (No. 23), Twins righty Matt Garza (No. 25), Mets right-hander Mike Pelfrey (No. 9) and Nationals’ 3B Ryan Zimmerman (No. 4).

But there’s more than hope for Clement, who plays a position that is known to take longer for development, and several explanations for not “lighting up” the box scores since draft day.

He’s been mishandled, injured and forced to share time when he deserves better. If the club allows him get back on the right path to the bigs, that’s exactly where he’ll be in no time at all.

Strengths: Clement is a left-handed bat with plus power potential and solid plate skills, including a much better batting eye than he displayed post-knee surgery a year ago. With quick wrists propelling a short, line-drive swing, the offense-first catcher has all the tools to bat in the middle of a big-league lineup for several years.

He’s capable of going the other way, and with power, and while he runs like a catcher, he’s also got solid base-running instincts and his work ethic will not be the reason he fails at anything.

Clement possesses good makeup and has the desire to improve enough defensively to succeed Kenji Johjima as the Seattle Mariners full-time backstop.

Weaknesses: Clement lacks athleticism which may catch up with him in his endeavor to prove he can stick behind the plate. He has adequate strength and hands and should eventually develop solid throwing technique but the questions that remain include his ability to move laterally to block pitches.

AGE HEIGHT WEIGHT BATS THROWS ACQUIRED
23 6-1 215 Left Right Draft, 2005 – 1st round
YEAR TEAM LEVEL G 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS*
2006 San Antonio AA 15 6 1 2 7 8 .288 .386 .428 .911 .942
2006 Tacoma AAA 67 10 0 4 16 53 .257 .321 .347 .668 .703

Tools –

Hitting for Average (on-base skills): Clement occasionally displays the inability to cover the outer half of the plate but his overall approach and aptitude to take pitches to the opposite field is enough evidence that he’ll fill that gap with more experience versus better pitching.
Clement is patient but still has room to grow in that area while he polishes off his strike zone judgment and sharpens his pitch recognition, which is already solid. He’ll draw an adequate number of walks and should ultimately limit the strikeouts to satisfactory levels – both very positive signs for his future with the bat.

If he’s able to maximize his development, there’s no reason Clement can’t hit in the .270s with solid on-base percentages in the .340-.360 range.
Grade: 50/55

Hitting for Power: Clement is the type of power bat that teams covet because he doesn’t have to swing out of his shoes to produce the bat speed necessary to send pitches sailing 350-400 feet.

Instead, he relies on balance and timing, centered around a classic hip-turn that pulls his bat through the zone with plus bat speed. Clement is a classic repetition hitter that is likely to improve with every plate appearance, and though his future behind the plate is somewhat in question, he’s still a good bet to turn into a well above-average performer standing next to it.
Grade: 55/65

Glove: Clement isn’t a bad defensive catcher, his shortcomings are mostly due to lack of proper instruction and, here’s that word again, repetition. Injury pretty much robbed him of a full year of development, but he’s made strides since the end of last season that have the Mariners excited about what lies ahead.

Clement’s hands are “light years better,” as one member of the player development department said, than they were at the start of last season and his understanding of the position has improved significantly. When knowing what to do is half the battle, it’s an enormous step when those instructing begin to let the student teach himself, and that’s starting to happen with Clement.

He’s springing up out of his crouch better than ever, thanks to a healthy knee and enhanced catch-and-throw mechanics.

While the coaches are seeing the improvements, pitchers are starting to notice, too, and that may be more important than anything. One right-hander opined that he’s twice the catcher he was last year.

“I had no idea it was Clement back there,” he said. “I remember last year he seemed uncomfortable in his squat, which made me a little uncomfortable throwing to him. I guess since I didn’t know him at all, I wasn’t too confident with him back there.

“Man, I thought it was (Rob) Johnson or (Adam) Moore, or maybe one of the new guys. He seemed much more confident and active.”

While a Gold Glove is not likely in Clement’s future, it appears that his chances to catch, at least some, in the big leagues improve with every day of experience.
Grade: 45/50

Arm: With adequate arm strength, Clement’s throwing technique, like everything else in his game, just needs time. Like pitchers, catchers need to repeat their throwing motion to develop consistent, accurate throws and eliminate any delay-forcing hitches in their mechanics.

If Clement is to become an everyday catcher, he’ll certainly need to vastly improve his throwing, but it, too, has gotten better over the past eight months, even without much playing time.
Grade: 45/50

Future: While projecting Clement as an all-star catcher is probably going too far, he’s got the offensive skills to do just that. If the M’s are patient enough with his catching, and can avoid rushing his bat, the USC product remains a pretty good prospect that could provide the big club with a number of prolific seasons.

The club probably stunted his development by rushing him to Triple-A Tacoma last summer, and it appears they are backing off that approach somewhat this season.

At last check, the M’s are considering sending Clement to Double-A West Tennessee where he can play everyday in a contented environment. Splitting time with Rob Johnson, or anyone else for that matter, isn’t conducive to either player’s development, particularly Clement’s, who needs the time defensively.

“It’s irresponsible to do what they (Mariners) did last year,” said a rival front office member. “They rushed their shortstop (Asdrubal Cabrera) before trading him, they rushed both catchers (Johnson, Clement) and they pushed Tui (Matt Tuiassosopo) far too qucikly. They should know better, and I bet they do.

“It really seems like they promoted those kids to make something that wasn’t there naturally. You can’t create value in your prospects that way, it’s going to catch up to them at some point, and they went o-fer with all of them. It’s not only counterproductive, it’s inexcusable and probably cost themselves and their players career time, or possible a career at all.

“Clement probably was effected the most, since he had the most to lose. I’m telling you, if he’s handled properly, he’s still a big-time prospect and I’m really excited for his future.”

OFP: 62

MLB ETA: 2007 (September)

MLB CLONE:

Ceiling: Jorge Posada
Median: Robert Fick
Cellar:
Eric Munson

PI Projection: .283/.344/.459, 48 BB, 78 K

Churchill on Clement: I really like Clement, and I can’t really point to one thing that I like most about his game. Of course, his ceiling defensively is in the average range, and there is still a decent chance he never catches a game in the majors, but you have to like a guy who just goes to work every day, no complaints, no whining, no excuses, no days off, and absolutely no artificial fanfare.

Sounds like a catcher to me.

While just about everything you hear about Clement is that he may not catch, or won’t catch, or can’t catch, some are also doubting his bat, which to me is a little odd, especially those who loved his bat a year ago and have done a 180.

What’s changed, I ask. He was raking in Double-A, just as most expected he would, and was rushed to Tacoma where he struggled to shake off the rust and never found any consistency, neither physically with the knee and elbow nor with on-field performance.

If anything is excusable, it’s being rushed back from injury and thrust into situations where he had little chance to succeed, and failing.

It’s not an excuse, it’s just very excusable. Clement can hit, and didn’t forget how while rehabbing from knee surgery.

Besides, the biggest problems at the plate in Tacoma were about making contact and squaring up the fastball and getting some pop behind it.

He’ll hit, and that’s the key to his status as a major asset in the farm system.

If he catches, which will necessitate the M’s being patient enough for him to develop, he’s damned near a bluechipper.

Posted in M's Draft, M's Top Prospects, Scouting Reports, Seattle Mariners | 63 Comments »

No. 3 – Brandon Morrow, RHP

Posted by Jason A. Churchill on March 20, 2007

Righthander Brandon Morrow has a lot of fans awfully excited right now, and understandably so. He’s been lighting up the radar guns with a mid-90s heater, locating his slider a little bit and his splitter is, well, splitting effectively against anyone who steps into the box against him.

But I know I’m going to have to explain myself at some point, so let me get into the specifics of why Morrow is No. 3 and not No. 1 or 2.

Morrow is a safer prospect to project than, say, Jeff Clement, but comes with similar or greater risks in other areas such as health, future role and long-term value. If both players reached their absolute ceilings of Jason Schmidt for Morrow and a Jorge Posada-type role for Jeff Clement, Morrow probably has the advantage, slightly.

But even with Clement’s defense as questionable as it is, his offensive ceiling has more potential value than does Morrow’s back-up career as a closer.

I had Morrow sitting at No. 2 for nearly a month as I compiled all the data for the Top 10, and I flip-flopped each name back and forth at least three or four times. But considering the general risk of pitchers/the advantage that hitters take with them into the upper minors as far as risk goes, Clement edged out Morrow by the slightest of margins.

Truthfully, the entire group between 2 and 6 are interchangeable for me, and the end-result could reflect them in any order. I just feel like Clement’s got a little bit better shot to become a full-time catcher/offensive force in the majors than Morrow does to be a frontline starter.

Morrow is terribly talented and I’m as excited to see what his future brings as anyone else. I believe what some don’t – I think he can start in the big leagues and I don’t buy the BS that he has to have a good change-up or curve ball in order to do it.

This whole “he needs a third pitch” thing is not a universal, global concept that applies to all pitchers. Most of them yes. But do you think Greg Maddux needed another pitch outside his two-seam fastball and change-up combo in his prime? He had one, but there were entire games where he’s admitted he threw less than five curve balls of the 110 he tossed toward home plate.

Did Randy Johnson need a third pitch in his day? Nope. A 98-mph fastball and nasty slider were more than enough to earn him his legendary status.

And many times a third offering is just that. A third pitch to show the hitter something different. It doesn;t always need to be something great.

Morrow has plenty of velocity on his fastball and his slider and splitter give him three pitches, with his slider being the current “show-me” selection.

Clement is a special case and may ultimately need more time to learn to catch than the team wants to wait. His bat will get him to the bigs, unlike most catching prospects. He’s come along ways since draft day, but that is another story for another day – like tomorrow, when Clement is named the No. 2 prospect.

As for why Morrow is not No. 1? Let’s not even go there. At the top spot the Mariners have a legitimate future all-star. Stay tuned.

 

Strengths: Morrow has good size, plus stuff and grades average or better across the board, including makeup, mechanics and pitchability.

He’s a bit of a late-bloomer in that he didn’t taste a lot of success in college until he had experienced as many adverse results as one may be able to take.

After posting a combined ERA of 7.57 during his first two years at Cal Berkley, Morrow responded with a strong year in 2006 where the right-hander showed vast improvement in all areas, most importantly cutting his walk rate in half.

Morrow has all the makings of a successful power arm, whether he’s getting 30 starts a year or finishing games.

Weaknesses: The 22-year-old has a shallow track record of success and was drafted primarily on his physical ability, raw stuff and risky future potential.

Morrow possesses a frontline starter’s arsenal but has yet to display more than average command. Combined with his lack of a true off-speed pitch, each could provide a major obstacle to Morrow’s long-term future as a member of the rotation.

Diagnosed with diabetes four years ago, Morrow pitches with a glucose tablet in his back pocket and checks his blood sugar between innings. There’s no reason to believe it’ll ever interfere with his baseball career, however, and surely hasn’t limited his physical abilities.

Arm soreness last summer restricted his time on the mound, but he’s had no signs of trouble since.

AGE HEIGHT WEIGHT BATS THROWS ACQUIRED
22 6-3 200
Right Right Draft, 2006 – 1st Round
YEAR TEAM LEVEL G IP ERA HR/9 BB/9 K/9 AVG SLGA OPS OPS* BABIP*
2006 Peoria R 7 13.0 2.77 0.00 6.23 9.00 .227 .341 .699 .699 .323
2006 Inland A+ 1 3.0 0.00 0.00 0.00 12.00 .000 .000 .000 .000 .000

Tools –

Fastball: Morrow gets a good downward angle on his mid-90s fastball, a four-seamer he is able to locate regularly. There’s plenty of zip on it, enabling the Bay Area native to pitch aggressively up in the zone, but it has solid sinking action that induces a decent amount of groundballs.

Sitting 93-98 with the four-seamer, Morrow sets up his secondary stuff well by forcing the hitter to start early. Improved command with the fastball may be the difference between Morrow the No. 3 starter or Morrow the Curt Schilling clone.
Grade: 65/70

Splitter: Morrow’s out pitch is a high-80s split-finger that serves as his off-speed pitch and can baffle hitters charged up to hit the plus fastball. The club would prefer he employed a change-up instead – and word is that he’s working on it – but he’s got a great feel for the split already and it appears he’ll be allowed to use it at his own discretion.

At times the splitter is a devastating option for Morrow and reduces the necessity for a legit curve ball.
He must avoid abusing the pitch and trusting his third offering a little bit more, but the split-finger is a big time weapon, and keeps left-handers completely off balance.
Grade:
55/65

Slider: Morrow’s slider has improved since his sophomore year and he’s gaining the confidence needed to throw it when behind in the count. Morrow typically throws the pitch at 83-86 mph with decent tilt and late break.

The more the 6-3, 200-pound flamethrower can use the slider, the more effective his fastball-splitter combo will be, as if it’s not good enough already.
Grade: 45/55

Command: Morrow showed solid command at Cal last year and it continued in his short stint as a pro last summer. He’ll need to become more consistent with it as he works his way through the system, which could be very quickly if all goes well.

As a starter in college, Morrow experienced spells of control problems and in the pro game he’ll have to find a way to avoid those if he’s to smell success in the upper levels as well as the big leagues.
Grade: 50/55

Mechanics: With his arm angle, a near-7/8 slot, Morrow should be able to stave off major elbow injuries but that may come with a negative, too. Improving his slider might be a limited venture, which is why the club is on him to grow a change-up and a curve.

His velocity is reached with an easy, flowing motion from both the wind and the stretch and his stride is solid and without a ton of effort, which bodes well in the long-term.
Grade: 50/60

Future: Morrow could step in this spring and help the Mariners out of the bullpen, but he’s most likely slated for Double-A West Tennesse to get work in the starting rotation. If the big club is contending after the all-star break, Morrow may be a prime candidate to come straight from Double-A to shore up the relief corps.

If the Mariners handle his development properly he’ll get 120+ innings as a starter in 2007 between West Tenn and Tacoma, even if he gets the big call later in the year. He could be in the show for good sometime in 2008, even right out of spring training.

MLB ETA: 2007 (Post Break)

MLB CLONE –

Ceiling: Jason Schmidt

Median: Joe Nathan

Cellar: Chris Ray

OFP: 66.5

PI Projection 2007: 3.4 ERA, 135 IP, 9.8 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.5 G/F

Posted in Seattle Mariners | 47 Comments »

No. 4 – Tony Butler, LHP

Posted by Jason A. Churchill on March 17, 2007

Since 1998 the Seattle Mariners have been perusing the talent in the game of baseball, actively searching for left-handed pitching.

They’ve signed a few, traded for a couple and selected a number of them every June. But until round three of this past year’s draft, there hasn’t been such a promising southpaw since Ryan Anderson was taken in the first round nearly 10 years ago.

Tony Butler could very well be part of the resurgence of your Seattle Mariners, barring a miracle that the return to prominence occurs sooner.

With a plus fastball and curve and great makeup, the 19-year-old is an improved changeup away from being the next all-star quality starter in Mariners blue.

Strengths: Butler is able to create a leverage advantage with all of his pitches, and has shown the ability to induce ground balls as a result. He’s also got a lot of confidence to go with a strong work ethic and tons of projectability – one of the main reasons the M’s took a shot at him in the third round.

His velocity jumped markedly late in his prep season last spring and while many clubs had given up on him as an early pick, the Mariners stayed with him and it may pay off.

Butler’s considered to be a solid young man and his acumen for learning receives top grades by all accounts – inside and outside the Mariners organization. His performance in Everett last summer has many scouts saying the M’s got the steal of the round, if not the entire draft.

Weaknesses: Butler has a few flaws in his mechanics that the club sees as “necessary to fix” but none are supposedly career breakers by any means. The 19-year-old left-hander is about average at holding runners at this stage of his career but fields his position at an above-average level.

He tends to become predictable with his pitch selection, though that surely didn’t show up in the results last season, and will need to learn better sequential schemes to succeed in the upper levels of the minors.

AGE HEIGHT WEIGHT BATS THROWS ACQUIRED
19 6-7 210
Left Left Draft, 2006 – 3rd Round
YEAR TEAM LEVEL G IP ERA HR/9 BB/9 K/9 AVG SLGA OPS OPS* BABIP*
2006 Peoria R 5 14 2.57 0.00 5.79 16.07 .116 .186 .482 .482 .278
2006 Everett SS 9 42.1 2.76 0.43 5.31 11.06 .160 .236 .523 .503 .233

Tools –

Fastball: Butler was scouted as a mid-round pick as the season began last spring while he sat in the 87-90 range with his fastball. About halfway through his senior season he began to reach back for more, and more is what he got. He often touched 93 with a four-seamer, and that trend continued as a pro.

Butler gets good downward plane on his 90-93 mph heater, and while its horizontal movement is about average, it’s still a plus pitch due to the improved velocity and vertical action.

His fastball command needs improvement, but that will come with repetition and proper coaching.
Grade: 60/65

Curve: Butler’s out pitch is his 1-7 curve ball that he has loads of confidence throwing in any count. Even 3-0, Butler has shaken off his catcher to get the old No. 2, wound up and fired in a low-80s yacker that can buckle the knees of a left-handed bat and force a righty to give up early and regret it dearly.

He overused the pitch at times and the club asked him to back off the pitch late last year to save some torque on his young elbow, which forced/allowed him to use his third pitch more often.

Butler’s curve is currently above average and has the depth and late break to become a plus power curve ball that could give major leaguers a heckuva tough time.
Grade: 55/65

Change: Currently his third best offering, Butler’s change is actually fairly solid considering he didn’t use it much in high school. He’s got a circle grip that should prove to be an easy learn for him with his larger-than-average hands and fingers.

With good dead-fish action, it’s already a useful offering and the more he throws it, the better it’ll get. If he can gain more confidence in the change-up, the sky is the limit for the Wisconsin native.
Grade: 50/60

Command: While he only served up two home runs in over 56 innings of work last summer, he did find a way to issue nearly 5.5 walks per nine innings. He countered that with more than 12 K/9 but the walk rates have to improve against better competition.

Butler did have spurts of solid control in Everett, but it appeared as if he was trying to make a perfect pitch and that’s something a lot of young pitchers have to fight off.

There’s no reason why Butler can’t improve his command to the average level, or better, and his 2007 campaign will likely entail a lot of dialogue containing the words “throw strikes” from pitching coach Lance Painter.
Grade: 40/50+

Mechanics: Butler’s delivery pours his left arm out of the 5/8 slot which helps him hide the ball a little longer and create a slurvy curve ball. Being 6-7 and fairly athletic can both aid and hinder Butler’s mechanics, but he’s already built a pretty solid foundation of which to work.

Only minor adjustments are necessary at this point in his career, but one of them is the inconsistent length in his stride toward home plate. See? Minor, but a necessary fix.
Grade: 50/55

Future: Butler has the pure stuff to push to become a No. 1 starter in the big leagues. To make that a reality, he’ll have to avoid major injury, which means a lot of focus on his mechanics, and vastly improve his command.

While bettering one’s command to that extent is rare, Butler’s still capable of settling in as Seattle’s No. 2 starter, right behind Felix Hernandez, who’ll be a crafty veteran when Butler breaks through in a few years.

He’s a natural candidate to turn his curve ball into a slider, but that will likely have to happen naturally and without any significant changes in his approach with his breaking ball.

Butler will start his 2007 campaign in his home state of Wisconsin where he’ll be aided, if anything, by the ballparks, though the colder weather conditions tend to make it tough to pitch, as well as hit.

Butler could move very quickly if he sustains his velocity and his command shows good improvement from year to year.

MLB ETA: 2009

MLB CLONE –

Ceiling: Mark Mulder

Median: Doug Davis

Cellar: Eric Milton

OFP: 65.5

PI Projection 2007: 3.5 ERA, 145 IP, 9.8 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, 1.6 G/F

Posted in M's Draft, M's Top Prospects, Scouting Reports, Seattle Mariners | 75 Comments »