15. Jon Nelson, 1B, 24, 6-5/214
2003 Team: Wisconsin-A
.264 AVG/.292 OBP/.432 SLG 16HR, 91RBI, 38 2B, 2 3B, 13SB
Outlook/2004: Nelson is possibly the prospect in the M's system with the most power potential. After leading the Northwest League in homeruns in 2002, Nelson's production dropped somewhat in the pitcher friendly parks of the Midwest League in 2003. The Mariners brass hope a return to more hitter friendly environments of the California League or the Texas League will help Nelson regain his power stroke. Nelson's plate discipline is a major issue with his development and he needs to leap over that obstacle in order to retain his prospect status. At 24 years old, Nelson's year is 2004. Expect him to begin the 2004 season at Inland with a mid-season promotion to San Antonio a possibility if he shows the necessary improvements.
MLB ETA: 2005 (September)
MLB Clone: Derek Lee, Phil Nevin
14. Luis Oliveros, C, 20, 6-1/205
2003 Team: Inland Empire - High-A
.286/.333/.391 5HR, 41RBI, 19 2B
Outlook/2004: Oliveros surprised many by taking the Inland catching job and running away with it. His right-handed .286 average and solid defense wasn't what Inland needed the most from it's catcher in 2003. The intangible talent of handling pitchers was by far Oliveros' most valuable contribution to the 2003 California League Champions. Even in a year where the starting rotation was filled with four top left-handers and a string right-hander, Oliveros was a calming influence and a steady mind behind the dish. Offensively, Oliveros isn't the power threat that fellow catching prospects Rene Rivera and Ryan Christianson are, but his consistency in all aspects of his game have him sitting pretty in the M's farm system, waiting for the 2004 promotion to Double-A San Antonio.
MLB ETA: 2006
MLB Clone: Brad Ausmus, Eddie Perez
13. A.J. Zapp, 1B, 25, 6-3/192
2003 Team: San Antonio-AA
.278/.346/.496 25HR, 92RBI, 35 2B
Outlook/2004: Zapp, signed as a minor league free agent during last off-season, has an opportunity to win a job with the M's in 2005. The impending retirement of both DH Edgar Martinez and 1B John Olerud could open up a spot for Zapp to strut on into SAFECO under the radar and have an impact from the left side of the plate. Zapp will have competition from fellow minor leaguers Greg Dobbs and Justin Leone, but not without a big advantage. He is left-handed and has more power than either of the other two. Dobbs, also a lefty, is more of a doubles hitter with 20-25 HR power while Zapp hits a few more fly balls that land in the seats. Zapp's downfall is his high number of strikeouts. At Triple-A Tacoma, he will face solid pitching with the challenge of putting wood to leather more often.
MLB ETA: 2004 (September)
MLB Clone: Travis Lee, Geoff Jenkins
12. Adam Jones, SS, 18, 6-2/186
2003 Teams: Peoria-R, Everett - SS-A
.303/.392/.369, 12RBI, 5SB, 6 2B, 1 3B
Outlook/2004: One of the most complicated things to do when evaluating the talent and progress of minor leaguers is to do so with a player that has played exactly a half of a season in pro ball. It was difficult to hold the ranking down to No 12 as Jones' performance and age alone deserved higher. He was drafted as a shortstop but was also rated very highly as a pitcher, more ammo for the tough task of a prospect ranking. Jones has every skill in the book - plus speed, a great arm, hits for high average, 25 HR type power, fields well, and the athleticism and versatility to play third base or outfield as well as SS. Expect Jones to move up quickly through the system as his bat matures on the power side and his defense is shored up. Look for Jones to begin 2004 at Wisconsin of the Midwest League.
MLB ETA: 2007
MLB Clone: Edgardo Alfonzo, Derek Jeter
11. Ismael Castro, 2B, 20, 5-9/187
2003 Team: Inland Empire - High-A
.275/.314/.373/ 3HR, 23RBI, 9SB
Outlook/2004: Castro jumped over entry level "A" ball and had a fine season at Advanced-A Inland Empire. If fellow infield prospect Jose Lopez remains in Double-A for the start of 2004, look for a fantastic all-around double-play combination with Castro at 2B and Lopez at SS. Blessed with solid 25-steal speed, and a superb eye at the plate, Castro is perfect in the No. 2 hole in a fine offensive lineup. He is fundamentally sound and can drop a bunt down or execute a hit and run as well as any Mariner minor leaguer with the possible exception of Lopez. Defensively, Castro has a very strong arm, great range and has played some SS in addition to his natural position of 2B. Castro's future is at 2B and he has the skills to improve his production in every offensive area.
MLB ETA: 2006
MLB Clone: Rafael Furcal, Ray Durham
M's Top Prospect List: 11-15
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