Prospect Files: Justin Leone

At age 26, Justin Leone is too old to be referred to as a prospect anymore. But that doesn't mean that the M's 13th round draft pick in the 1999 amateur draft doesn't have a bright future ahead of him. After a breakout 2003 season in Double-A, Leone could very well work his way into the Mariners' left side of the infield when the team heads down to Peoria for Spring Training.

Position: 3B
Born: March 9, 1977
Place: Las Vegas, NV
Height: 6-1
Weight: 195
Bats: R
Throws: R
How Acquired: Drafted in 13th Round in 1999

There were 394 players drafted ahead of Leone in 1999 but not many have made the noise the slugger has protruded from his bat. High expectations led to some frustration early on in his professional career but 2003 produced a season that should earn the 26-year-old a strong shot to make the big club in spring training.

In Leone's first two seasons out of St. Martin's College in Lacey, Wash., the right-handed hitting infielder was steady if unspectacular hitting in the .260's with 24 homeruns in under 600 at-bats at Everett and Wisconsin. The club was immediately impressed with the solid strikeouts-to-walks ratios and Leone shot up the charts. At the tail end of year two, 2000, Leone was set to get a promotion to Advanced-A San Bernardino when a minor injury held him back.

The third-sacker started the 2001 season at San Bernardino with high hopes and expectations but ended as a disappointment as he finished with a .233 average with 158 strikeouts in 130 games. He did smack 22 homeruns and drive in 69 while playing 3B and SS.

2002 was much of the same as the 25-year-old Leone was sliding out of the future plans of the organization, finishing with just a .249 average with 18 homeruns in 358 at-bats. The 6-1, 195-pounder from Las Vegas did clean up the strikeout issue with only 98 on the season.

Following two disappointing seasons, 2003 wasn't looking so bright for Leone. Starting the season, he was to be the main infield backup to SS Jose Lopez and 3B Greg Dobbs. Leone got just a few at-bats in the first week of the season until incumbent 3B Greg Dobbs suffered a season-ending injury. That's when he took over full-time and the rest, as they say, is history. Leone responded by hitting .288 with 21 homeruns, 92 RBI, and won the Texas League MVP. He was then selected to play on the US Olympic qualifying squad and smacked three homeruns in four games.

2004 looks to be one where Leone could make his mark. Spring Training in Peoria could be the breeding ground for Seattle's next 3B.

TOOLS: Grading Scale

Stick: 70
Leone has a chance to be a pretty solid hitter with 20-25 HR power and the ability to take walks. He is a solid all-around athlete and should hit 30+ doubles per year. The slugger in him does make him somewhat susceptible to the strikeout but not anymore than the typical hitter with his abilities.

Glove: 70
Leone boasts great instincts and a terrific arm which points to great abilities at the hot corner. Defensively he has improved as his offense has blossomed and he seems ready for the big leagues with the glove as well.

Wheels: 60
Leone's ability to play SS on occasion is proof of his speed and athletic ability and bodes extremely well for a ML caliber 3B. On the bases, Leone stole 20 bags in 2003 and has always been able to swipe a base on occasion. The 26-year-old isn't one to clog up the base paths.

MLB ETA: 2004



RHP Clint Nageotte

OF Chris Snelling

IF Jose Lopez

IF Ismael Castro

OF Josh Womack

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