Q & A: Jim Callis of Baseball America

InsidethePark.com's Jason A. Churchill tossed a few questions for Baseball America's Executive Editor Jim Callis to hit out of the park. What does Callis think of the M's top prospects? What is his assessment of the Mariners draft last month? Check out the latest Q & A to get the answers.

InsidethePark.com: What is your assessment of the Mariners 2004 draft, considering they didn't have a pick until No. 93 overall?

Jim Callis: I always throw out the caveat that it's extremely difficult to evaluate a draft until 3-5 years down the line, not that it stops Baseball America from trying. The Mariners didn't have picks in the first two rounds, so at this point their draft will look weaker than most. Shortstop Matt Tuiasosopo, the top pick (third round), is a high-risk, high-reward choice. If the Mariners sign him away from college football and he can deliver on his potential, he's close to a first-round talent and this draft will look better. Fourth-rounder Rob Johnson is a very athletic catcher who needs to hit for more power. Fifth-rounder Mark Lowe has a good arm but needs to refine his secondary pitches and command.

ITP Note: Tuiasosopo has signed with the Mariners (7-2-2004) and has been assigned to Peoria in the Arizona Rookie League.

ITP: In general, do you think clubs should be somewhat careful in giving away draft picks when signing free agents, especially teams with severe holes in their farm system such as Seattle?

JC: I wouldn't say Seattle has severe holes in their farm system. I'd still rank it in the upper half of farm systems in the game. But yes, I'd be more careful about giving away my draft picks than the Mariners have been. It's one thing to sign guys who can help you win championships, it's another to give up a first-round pick for Greg Colbrunn. I think Seattle jumped the gun signing Raul Ibanez so quickly last offseason. The Giants apparently signed Michael Tucker quickly in order to give up their first-round pick and the seven-figure bonus that would come with it, but if you want/have to go cheap, why not just take a second or third-round talent with that choice and sign him extra cheaply. It's still another valuable addition to the farm system.

ITP: I'm sure you have been asked this many times but...What is your overall impression of Felix Hernandez and what kind of timetable do you see for him as far as when he moves to Double-A and so forth?

JC: I think he's the best pitching prospect in the minors right now. It seems hard to believe that he's 18, but I haven't heard anyone question his age and the Mariners say that's legit. He seems almost too good to be true, and he is speeding through the minors. He had no problem handling a high Class A hitter's league, and I'm anxious to see how he does now that he's been promoted to Double-A. The Mariners are trying to take things slow with Hernandez, but he's so good that he's making that very difficult.

ITP: In your opinion, what kind of major league player will Jose Lopez turn out to be, and which position do you see him playing ultimately?

JC: I don't see any reason he can't become a good major league regular at shortstop, playing good defense while showing plus power for the position. The Mariners are playing him at second and third base as well, more to enhance his chances of cracking the lineup (not knowing where an opening might arise) than because of any defensive deficiencies at shortstop. I always thought Seattle signed Rich Aurilia to just a one-year deal to keep shortstop open for Lopez next year.

ITP: Could you talk a little bit about M's left-hander Travis Blackley? Without an overpowering fastball and high strikeout totals, he continues to find ways to get some pretty good Triple-A hitters out consistently, and without his best out-pitch right now. Where does he fit in the rotation? No. 3 type starter?

JC: I'm always conservative when it comes to slotting guys in a rotation, but I can see Blackley being a No. 3. He knows how to pitch and misses bats with less than overpowering stuff. He may need slightly better command before he's ready to succeed in the majors, however, but it will be fun to watch him now that he has been promoted.

ITP: What are your thoughts on M's 3B propect Jesus Guzman. Alot of people haven't seen much of him, but at 19-years-old he is hitting the baseball pretty well.

JCGuzman wasn't on my radar screen coming into 2004 after spending three years in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League. He has handled the jump to high Class A with aplomb, and if his listed age (20) is correct, that's very impressive.

ITP: Same question of Wladimir Balentien.

JC: Balentien destroyed the Rookie-level Arizona League home run record with 16 in 50 games last summer, though there were questions about his birthdate (listed as July 2, 1984) and his approach. He's continuing to show power in the low Class A Midwest League this year, but his plate discipline (54 SO, 9 BB) is still very rough. He's definitely worth following but he's far from a sure thing at this point.

ITP: Rumors are flying about the M's and Freddy Garcia being traded this summer and the talk is usually of someone's prospects. Can you tell us a little bit about White Sox OF prospect Jeremy Reed, New York's Catching prospect Dioner Navarro, and just for fun, the Mets 3B David Wright, who is highly unlikely to be traded for anybody?

JC: (I'll answer this based on the players they got for Garcia.)
All three players Seattle got for Garcia are interesting and could be part of their future. Outfielder Jeremy Reed is a gifted line-drive hitter with plus speed. He might have been a tad overrated in some quarters after leading the minors with a .373 average and .453 OBP last year, but he's a very good prospect. Miguel Olivo is a rare catcher who shows well in all five tools and has some upside. Even if he doesn't max out his potential, he's better than any catcher the organization had. Shortstop Michael Morse is breaking out at the plate this year and projects as a third baseman down the road, especially with Jose Lopez on hand.

ITP: Looking ahead to the 2005 draft where the M's might have as high as a top 5 choice, who are the best college draft prospects for next June's Draft? How good of a prospect is Nebraska's Alex Gordon?

JC: As I write this on the afternoon on July 1, the Mariners would indeed pick fifth. The top five college prospects for 2005 right now, in order, are Wichita State righthander Mike Pelfrey, Southern California catcher Jeff Clement, Nebraska third baseman Alex Gordon, Mississippi first baseman/lefthander Stephen Head and Stanford first baseman/outfielder John Mayberry Jr. Gordon is the best college hitter in the 2005 draft class.

ITP: Would you expect Adam Jones to remain at SS throughout his career, or is he likely to move to 3B or the outfield? It seems many players are drafted or signed as shortstops and moved around to find the proper defensive position.

JC: There's no reason Jones can't stay at shortstop. He has a very strong arm, good range, good hands and actions. Many players are drafted at shortstop and have to move as they progress up the ladder, but Jones has the physical tools to remain at the position.

ITP: Last One. With the Current crop of prospects still in the minors (not counting this year's MLB rookies such as Mauer etc.), which ones might we see atop Baseball America's top 100 list in 2005?

JC: If he maintains his rookie status, Devil Rays shortsop B.J. Upton is a favorite to be No. 1. To name just a couple of other hitters, Devil Rays outfielder Delmon Young and Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder also rank near the top. As I mentioned earlier, Felix Hernandez is the top pitching prospect in my mind right now.

Insidethepark.com would like to thank Jim Callis for taking the time to give us his well-respected opinion on the Seattle Mariners farm system and their recent draft. You can find Jim's work at www.baseballamerica.com on a regular basis.

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