M's Prospect Watch - The Outfielders

InsidethePark.com will be taking a look at the Mariners' top prospects at each position throughout their minor league system over the next week. In this, the first installment, our minor league guru Jason A. Churchill ranks the top outfielders.

So you want tp know who is going to be roaming the greenest of grass in SAFECO's spacious outfield for the next several years, do you? Who is going to follow in the footsteps of Mike Cameron, Ichiro Suzuki, Jay Buhner and Ken Griffey Jr.? Most likely it is some kid that's toiling around down in the minor leagues right now. Here are five outfielders that have a good shot to be difference-makers in the future:

1. Shin-soo Choo, 21, 5-11/184, L/L
2003 Team: Inland Empire, High-A
.286 AVG/.365 OBP/.459 SLG 9HR, 55RBI, 18SB

Outlook/2004: Choo can play all three outfield positions well, utilizing his speed and plus arm to do so. Offensively Choo has no glaring weakness and merely needs to sharpen his plate skills and learn to use his base stealing speed more favorably. His power is improving, as was evident this season with his 41 extra base hits, and should continue to improve. Choo will likely start his 2004 season in AA San Antonio.
MLB ETA: 2005.
MLB Clone: Corey Patterson, Darin Erstad

2. Chris Snelling, 22, 5-11/189, L/L
2003 Teams: San Antonio-AA, Tacoma-AAA
.316/.359/.457, 6HR, 35RBI

Outlook/2004: Snelling is one of those players that is tough to gauge when you talk "tools". His best tool is that he can play baseball. Period. His average speed and arm are hidden well with his grit and determination. Snelling needs to stay healthy to get a shot at left field in the big leagues but his stroke at the plate and high effort levels will always keep him on a field when his body allows for it.
MLB ETA: 2004
MLB Clone: Sean Burroughs, BJ Surhoff

3. Greg Jacobs, 26, 5-9/187 L/L
2003 Teams: Inland-High-A, San Antonio-AA
.345/.404/.526 10HR, 78RBI, 42 2B

Outlook/2004: Jacobs was signed out of the independent leagues and was a superb hitter from the get-go, leading the Cal League in hitting. His promotion to AA didn't do much to slow him down as he continued to hit over .300. Jacobs margin for error is smaller than that of Choo and Snelling due to his advanced age but after his 2003 campaign the left-handed polished hitting could get him on the fast track to SAFECO.
MLB ETA: 2004 (September)
MLB Clone: Scott Hatteberg, Trot Nixon

4. Jamal Strong, 25, 5-11/182, R/R
2003 Teams: Peoria-R, Tacoma-AAA
.311/.398/.373 2HR, 23RBI, 28SB

Outlook/2004: After a shoulder injury, Strong made the best of a short 2003 season and finished it as well as anyone could ask. His .305 batting average at Tacoma was solid, but the .424 average he put up during the final 18 games, well that was phenomenal. In the past few seasons Strong has had a history of starting well and tailing off as pitchers learn his tendencies. Not in 2003. The 25-year-old used his blazing speed to his advantage and made the proper adjustments at the plate and now will go into Spring Training with a shot to make the big club.
MLB ETA: 2004
MLB Clone: Juan Pierre, Dave Roberts

5. Wladimir Balentien, 19, 6-1/204, R/R
2003 Team: Peoria-R .283/.363/.658
16HR, 52RBI, 12 2B, 5 3B

Outlook/2004: In his first year in pro baseball, Balentien put up big numbers and is already one of the top power prospects in the organization. His defense is still a work-in-progress but he has good athletic skills and should develop well. Offensively is where Balentien makes his mark and if he can cut back on his strikeouts he will move through the system quickly.
MLB ETA: 2007
MLB Clone: Carlos Lee, Brian Jordan

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