Prospect Watch: On the Hot Seat brings you the Top 10 prospects "On the Hot Seat" for the upcoming season. Injuries and untapped natural talent saturate this group of highly-touted Mariner minor leaguers that have yet to reach their full potential. The 2004 season will serve as a critical time for each.

1. Chris Snelling-OF
The trunk full of injuries sustained by Snelling have shortened every season of his professional career except his first year with the club, 1999. The 22-year-old outfielder has still managed hit well at every level he has played at in his five-year career. Snelling was expected to be Seattle's starting left fielder by now and the team has already made plans without him. The Aussie-born outfielder has one mission for 2004; stay off the disabled list.

2. Ryan Anderson-LHP
The 6-foot-10 southpaw has been unable to throw a pitch in a competitive game since 2000 and could sit out all of 2004 if things don't turn around quickly. The 24-year-old was the M's first-round choice in the 1997 draft and carried heavy expectations from the start, many his own. To avoid a No.1 ranking on this list next year he will need to take the mound and show some evidence of the natural talent he displayed in 2000.

3. Ryan Christianson-C
Another M's failed first-rounder to this point, Christianson, 22, has battled the injury bug as well, missing virtually all of 2003 recovering from a foot injury as well as elbow-tendonitis. A physical prototype for the catcher position at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, the 1999 first-round draft pick has sporadically showed promise at and behind the plate. Staying healthy is the only realistic goal.

4. Matt Thornton-LHP
At the risk of sounding like a scratched CD, Thornton is another health issue Seattle has had to deal with, though at a lesser level than the previous three atop the rankings. The 27-year-old starter-turned-reliever comes into 2004 looking to stay healthy all season and prove his stuff is as good as advertised. The spring showing by the 1998 first rounder was a good sign he has regained the necessary strength and endurance feared to have been lost after cervical spinal herniation.

5. Aaron Taylor-RHP
Taylor once retired, only to be talked out of it by Mariner management. Two seasons later and Taylor has yet to make a mark at the big league level at 26 years of age and seems rutted behind an abundance of solid relievers in the organization, despite success at the Double-A and Triple-A levels as a closer. Recovering from shoulder surgery performed this past fall, Taylor will get a late start in his quest to finally get over the top and break into the M's pen.

6. Jon Nelson-1B
The 24-year-old power hitting Nelson is always one swing away from putting a run on the board. Unfortunately, he is also one swing away from fanning enough wind into the hot air of California to cool down the sweltering heat in all of Orange County. The 26th-rounder from Orem, Utah led the Northwest League in homers in 2002 and was primed for a breakthrough season in 2003. Instead, the 6-foot-5 Dixie College grad struggled to make contact and rarely drew a walk in the Midwest League. Nelson needs a strong rebound in 2004 to regain his status as a legitimate prospect.

7. Matt Hagen-3B
Hagen was a 12th-round selection in the 2002 draft and very little promise of the power he was drafted for when he hit just seven homers in 63 games for Everett in the Northwest League. The 2003 campaign showed more power with 21 bombs in a pitcher's league but had issues making solid contact on a regular basis. Hagen simply need to put his natural abilities together and produce at a higher level more consistently.

8. Tim Merritt-2B/SS
Life as a minor league baseball player isn't easy, especially when one finds himself in a make-or-break season at the age of 24. That's precisely the situation Merritt is in heading into 2004, a former third-round pick in 2001 out of South Alabama who began his pro career well but has struggled mightily in every stop since. Merritt hit .306 in 196 at bats at Low-A Everett in 2001 then .308 in 13 at bats at Wisconsin. But in 2002, his bat left him. He hit just .239 in 226 at bats in High-A San Bernardino and .188 in 48 ABs at Wisconsin. And last season was more of the same, as Merritt hit .257 at Wisconsin, .205 at Double-A San Antonio and .081 at Inland Empire. Always steady defensively, it's time for Merritt's bat to heat up if his future is to remain bright.

9. Michael Garciaparra-SS
Any time a No. 1 draft choice takes a while to produce on the baseball diamond, it doesn't take long for the critics to notice. Garciaparra falls into this category, whether its fare or not. Having only recently turned 21 and played in just two professional seasons, Garciaparra has yet to hit a season-long groove at either the plate or in the field. Last year at Mid-A Wisconsin, he committed an amazing 50 errors in 122 games at shortstop, and hit just .243 with two homers, 38 RBI and 14 SB. Still young, Garciaparra will need to show hit for a higher average and be more reliable in the field to keep his high status in the Mariners' farm system.

10. Chris Colton-OF
A 15th round pick in 2001, Colton excited the Mariners with his five-tool potential when he was drafted out of Newnan High in Georgia. But in his two seasons of professional ball, both played at Low-A Everett, Colton has yet to fully utilize his athleticism and put it all together. His numbers did improve across the board last season from the previous year with improvements in batting average from .231 to .260, RBI from 30 to 32, Walks from 35 to 38, strikeouts from 79 to 60, and steals from four to 16. Still only 21-years-old entering 2004, he will need to continue to put his tools to better use at the upper levels of the Mariners' minor league system.

Joe Kaiser contributed to this report.

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