M's Prospect Watch - The Middle Infielders

Thanks to some crafty drafting and an emphasis on building up the middle infield positions, the Mariners' minor league system is stocked with talented shortstops and second basemen. InsidethePark.com's minor league editor Jason A. Churchill breaks down the best of the bunch in his third installment of "M's Prospect Watch."

Teams with strong play up the middle, especially defensively, tend to have more success throughout a ballgame and a season. With Bret Boone and Rey Sanchez in their advanced years in baseball, and Carlos Guillen making a possible permanent move to third base, it won't be too long until the M's will be filling their middle infield with some new young faces. Leave your worries at the door M's fans, the team will have plenty of candidates to choose from.

1. Jose Lopez, 19, 6-0/200, R/R
2003 Team: San Antonio-AA
.285 AVG/.303 OBP/.403 SLG 13HR, 69RBI, 35 2B, 18SB

Outlook/2004: Lopez is the prize of the M's farm system as far as positional prospects are concerned. At 19 years of age, Lopez has outplayed many players at his level that are two to three years older. Lopez has played some second base and third base and could play either position in the big leagues. At shortstop, Lopez has made great strides defensively, highlighted by a second half stand in 2003 where he was stellar with the glove. With his bat Lopez made the improvements that the M's brass were looking for. MORE POWER. His 13 homers and 35 doubles are a great sign that his power is developing ahead of schedule. Lopez has never had an issue with strikeouts and also has great speed. Look for Lopez to start his 2004 season at Triple-A Tacoma.
MLB ETA: 2005
MLB Clone: Edgar Renteria, Miguel Tejada

2. Ismael Castro, 20, 5-9/187, B/R
2003 Team: Inland Empire - High-A
.275/.314/.373/ 3HR, 23RBI, 9SB

Outlook 2004: Castro was the Northwest League's MVP in 2002 and had a solid 2003 campaign after sliding up two notches in the system. At 20-years-old, Castro took a big challenge and met expectations by skipping the first level of A ball. Castro possesses good speed, gap power potential, the ability to play great defense at second base, and can play shortstop as well. Castro could either repeat Advanced-A ball at Inland or make a jump to AA, depending on spring training results.
MLB ETA: 2006
MLB Clone: Rafael Furcal, Ray Durham

3. Adam Jones, 18, 6-2 186, R/R
2003 Team: Peoria-R
.303/.392/.369, 12RBI, 5SB, 6 2B, 1 3B

Outlook/2004: The M's top pick in the June draft this year played well in his first stop, the Arizona Rookie League. Jones was drafted as a shortstop but was also a highly rated pitcher and if all else fails, could take the mound and give his best Rafael Soriano impersonation. As a hitter, Jones has some power potential and good plate skills. At 6-foot-2 he also has the frame to add some bulk and could move to the outfield or third base if the M's brass sees a better fit at those positions. The speed tool comes into play as well and in 2004 it will be utilized a bit more. His stolen base potential is not unlike that of former Mariner Alex Rodriguez. He has the speed, and now he needs to learn how to use it. Jones could see time in Wisconsin to start the year and then drop to Everett when their season begins in June.
MLB ETA: 2007
MLB Clone: Edgardo Alfonzo, Derek Jeter

4. Michael Garciaparra, 20, 6-1/170, R/R
2003 Team: Wisconsin-A
.243/314/.289 2HR, 38RBI, 14SB, 12 2B

Outlook/2004: The M's first round pick in 2001 finally made some strides in 2003 and has people talking about him again. After hitting under .200 for much of the year, Garciaparra went on a tear and ended the year hitting .243 after a .295 second half. Michael may not develop the power that his All-Star brother Nomar has, but he may be a better athlete with more speed and versatility. Like many young hitters, Garciappara needs to cut down on the strikeouts and make more consistent contact. At 20, he has time to develop those skills. His defense improved almost as much as his bat did during the second half of the year. His range has always been good and he is now cutting down on making the mistake on the routine play. With a strong arm and the plus range, Garciaparra is a shortstop by nature, but his athleticism makes him a candidate to move to second base or the outfield. Expect Garciaparra to make the jump to the more hitter-friendly California League with Inland Empire.
MLB ETA: 2006
MLB Clone: Alex S. Gonzalez, Barry Larkin

5. Oswaldo Navarro, 19, 5-11/163, B/R
2003 Team: Everett-Short-A
.258/.302/.318 23RBI, 12 2B, 16SB
Outlook/2004: Navarro had a solid 2003 in Everett using his speed and defense to stay in the lineup on a regular basis. Navarro played shortstop primarily but may be better suited to play second base in the future. He is the classic style second baseman offensively, using his legs to get on base and score runs. His power won't show up on most radar screens but as he matures physically could develop the gap power necessary for big league success.
MLB ETA: 2007
MLB Clone: Luis Rivas, Tony Womack

Other Notables:
Luis Ugueto/24/San Antonio/Tacoma/Seattle
Tim Merritt/24/Wisconsin/Inland/San Antonio
Nick Orlandos/23/Everett.

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