M's Top Prospect List: 1-5

Finally, after two weeks of counting down the top prospects in the Mariners' organization, the day is upon us. We have reached the end of the list, the top five. Needing no further introduction, here they are, the top five prospects on the farm in the eyes of InsidethePark.com's minor league editor, Jason A. Churchill.

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

Outlook/2004: Choo has every tool in the book, and uses them all to his advantage. With great speed Choo stretches singles into doubles and doubles into triples. His homerun power should improve every year as he develops his plate skills. It may not be too much to expect 20 long balls a season from Choo sometime down the road. His base-stealing ability is a work-in-progress, but his raw speed has 40-steal potential. Already blessed with a great outfield arm and superb range as a fielder, Choo is polishing his defensive skills and is capable of playing any of the three outfield positions. Expect Choo to put up big numbers in 2004 at Double-A San Antonio.
MLB ETA: 2005
MLB Clone: Corey Patterson, Darin Erstad

4. Rett Johnson, RHP, 24, 6-2/212
2003 Teams: San Antonio-AA, Tacoma-AAA
11-4, 2.63 ERA, 154IP, 112K, 39BB

Outlook/2004: Johnson jumped a few spots in the rankings in 2003 with a stellar season that started in San Antonio and ended up in Tacoma. Had it not been for some arm stiffness late in the year, Johnson would have likely seen action with the M's in September. Using an arsenal that includes a fastball topping out at 92 MPH, a plus slider, and a solid change-up, Johnson has the stuff to compete at the major league level. His edge is the advanced maturity he displays on the mound every fifth day, whether things are going his way or not. Watch for Johnson to battle for a spot in Seattle's rotation during Spring Training with the rumors of Freddy Garcia's departure flying about.
MLB ETA: 2004
MLB CLONE: Brad Radke, Russ Ortiz

3. Travis Blackley, LHP, 21, 6-3/192
2003 Team: San Antonio-AA
17-3, 2.61 ERA, 162.1IP, 144K, 62BB

Outlook/2004: Blackley is the reason why the top 5 was so tough to put in order. It was clear as day who the top five would be but evaluating Blackley is extremely difficult due to his lack of the usual top tool. Not blessed with that 95 MPH fastball, the southpaw sets up hitters with command of three plus pitches. Blackley uses a fastball clocked between 86 and 90MPH, and a plus change-up and breaking ball. Blackley's breaking pitch is the classic version of a slurve. It's not a hard, sharp, violently breaking slider nor is it a slow hooking 12-6 curve. But it is highly effective nonetheless and Blackley knows how to use it. The 21-year-old has an outside shot of shocking the organization and winning the fifth spot in the rotation in 2004, but he will likely start the year at Triple-A Tacoma.
MLB ETA: 2004 (September)
MLB Clone: Mark Buehrle, Al Leiter

2. Jose Lopez, SS, 20, 6-0/200
2003 Team: San Antonio-AA
.285/.303/.403 13HR, 69RBI, 35 2B, 18SB

Outlook/2004: It was tough not putting Lopez at No.1 due to his advanced play in Double-A at age 19. After starting off 2003 red hot, Lopez began to struggle with the bat around mid-season. As it turns out he was simply tuning up his bat for more spectacular things in September. The Venezuelan born Lopez showed the Texas League all about who the best player in the league was. The MVP may have been fellow Missions teammate Justin Leone, but Lopez was clearly the league's top position prospect by year's end. Finishing the year with 13 home runs and 35 doubles after having just seven extra-base hits in his first 139 at-bats was phenomenal for a teenager facing some of baseball's best starting pitching prospects. As Lopez continues his power development he will warrant comparisons to former Mariner SS Alex Rodriguez. Unfair as that may be - AROD is simply a once-in-a-lifetime Hall of Fame player - Lopez does have all-star written all over him. The power numbers could top out in the 24-28 range, while his speed and plate discipline are unmatched by a player his age. Watch for Lopez to begin 2004 at Triple-A Tacoma.
MLB ETA: 2005
MLB Clone: Edgar Renteria, Miguel Tejada

1. Clint Nageotte, RHP, 23, 6-4/214
2003 Team: San Antonio-AA
11-7, 3.10ERA, 154IP, 157K, 67BB

Outlook/2004: Many will ask "Why Nageotte over Blackley?" I'll tell you why. While Blackley had the superior 2003 and is two years younger while competing at the same level, Nageotte has the one ability that few starting pitchers have: the ability to completely dominate any lineup out in front of him. While Blackley is extremely advanced for his age, his ceiling doesn't match the top of the rotation ACE potential of Clint Nageotte. As was mentioned in InsideThePark.com's Organizational Depth Charts, Nageotte displayed this rare ability versus El Paso in July. That day, Nageotte recorded 14 strikeouts and 111 pitches later El Paso had reached base only once. One measly time! That is domination. Boasting a fastball between 92 and 96 MPH and a hammer-style slider, perhaps the best single pitch in the organization, Nageotte dominates regularly. The occasional loss of focus and command is the sole reason for human-like numbers. If the righty can develop his change-up into an average or better third pitch, there will be no stopping Clint Nageotte. Look for Nageotte to compete for a spot on the M's roster in Spring Training and start 2004 at Triple-A Tacoma.
MLB ETA: 2004
MLB Clone: Jason Schmidt, John Smoltz

Jason resides in North Tacoma, Washington, where his father is his best friend, his mother has a better fastball than he does, and his nephew is the only person better suited for stardom. Jason continues his hatred of the ignorant fan, the slider speed bat, and anything to do with the New York Yankees. Questions and comments are welcome at DiamondGenius@hotmail.com

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