M's Prospect Watch - First Base & Third Base

In the second installment of "M's Prospect Watch," InsidethePark.com's Jason A. Churchill examines the corners of the infield, a spot where the big league club will need help in the near future. Are there any candidates who will be able to step in and fill those needs? You'll have to read on to find out.

In an organization thirsting for run production from the corners of the infield, the M's are pretty empty in that department in their minor league system. They do have some power hitting prospects, but the best of the bunch are still a few years away from contributing in the big leagues.

First Base

1. A.J. Zapp, 25, 6-3/192, L/R
2003 Team: San Antonio-AA
.278 AVG/.346 OBP/.496 SLG 25HR, 92RBI, 35 2B

Outlook/2004: Zapp, a first round choice of the Atlanta Braves in 1996, staved off injury in 2003 to have the most productive season of his career. Zapp's Power numbers and run production are already to the liking of M's brass, and probably enough for him to get a shot at the big leagues in 2004, but his strikeout ratio is his biggest problem. 178K's in ANY season is unacceptable and Zapp's overall development relies heavily on his ability to cut down the number of times he walks away from home plate having not made contact. Expect Zapp to start his 2004 season at Triple-A Tacoma.
MLB ETA: 2004 (September)
MLB Clone: Travis Lee, Geoff Jenkins

2. Jon Nelson, 24, 6-5/214, R/R
2003 Team: Wisconsin-A
.264/.292/.432 16HR, 91Rbi, 38 2B, 2 3B, 13SB

Outlook/2004: Nelson is very much like Zapp in the way that his strikeouts are his only glaring weakness. The big first baseman can also play some outfield and has the athletic ability to do it on a regular basis. The Midwest League is a pitchers haven and Nelson will be happy to get out of it and join either the hitter friendly California League or the cozy confines of the Texas League, where his drives into the gap will turn into homeruns. Expect Nelson to play his way into the Texas League and on to the PCL at some point in 2004.
MLB ETA: 2005 (September)
MLB Clone: Derek Lee, Phil Nevin

3. Greg Dobbs, 25, 6-1/205, L/R
2003 Team: San Antonio-AA
Did Not Play (Injury)

Outlook/2004: After losing his 2003 season to injury, Dobbs will likely again start his season at Double-A San Antonio looking for quick promotions to the big leagues. Dobbs has played a lot of third base but due to injury and organizational needs, he could play some first base in '04. Dobbs possesses 25-homer power and solid all-around plate skills that should allow for a look in SAFECO late next season.
MLB ETA: 2004 (September)
MLB Clone: Jay Gibbons, Sean Casey

Third Base

1. Justin Leone, 27, 6-1/197, R/R
2003 Team: San Antonio-AA
.288/.405/.541 21HR, 92RBI, 38 2B, 7 3B

Outlook/2004: The possible Spring Training answer at third base for the M's. Whether Leone is basically handed the job to lose this spring depends on the decision to keep Carlos Guillen, non-tender his arbitration, or deal for another three-bagger. It's clear that one way or the other Jeff Cirillo will not be back, leaving the door open for Leone to make the jump and steal the job. Leone is a patient polished hitter that put together an MVP season in 2003 after several underachieving years in the minors. He has 25-homer power potential to go with his natural sense of hitting. His defense at third base took a similar turn that his offense did this past year, and he seems ready for the next challenge.
MLB ETA: 2004
MLB Clone: Shea Hillenbrand, Mike Lowell

2. Hunter Brown, 24, 6-2/200, R/R
2003 Team: Inland Empire - High-A .248/.353/.436 15HR, 68RBI, 34 2B, 3 3B

Outlook/2004: Brown is a polished hitter, much like that of Leone. His strikeout ratios are acceptable and he takes a walk enough to force pitchers to throw strikes to him. His defense is the best of any of the third base prospects in the system, as he is a prototype fielder for the position with his quick first step and strong arm. Brown could begin the 2004 season at Double-A San Antonio with a chance to see Triple-A action at some point during the year.
MLB ETA: 2005
MLB Clone: Bill Mueller, Aaron Boone

3. Matt Hagen, 24, 6-4/215, R/R
2003 Team: Wisconsin-A
.220/.309/.422 21HR, 65RBI, 28 2B

Outlook/2004: Hagen is a mix of fellow prospects Leone and Brown, with one single exception. When Hagen makes contact, he gets less base hits. A bigger player at 6-foot-4, he has more power than Brown, but strikes out more than either of his compadres, Leone or Brown. Hagen also struggles defensively at times fielding the sharply struck grounders, and his range is a bit limited. He does, however, have a cannon arm. Hagen could see a move to first base soon to aid his progression at the plate, and could begin the 2004 season at Double-A San Antonio.
MLB ETA: 2005 (September)
MLB Clone: Troy Glaus, Mike Lowell

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