There is no doubt that Gonzalez has the speed to steal 40 bases every season. The only question is how many attempts will it take for him to get there? 80? 100? Gonzalez has had problems getting caught stealing and being picked off this season. His 24 attempts produce only 12 successful steals after making good on 66 of 87 attempts in his pro career coming into the 2004 campaign. Gonzalez simply needs to learn how to steal bases. The speed is there.
9. Casey Craig, OF, Everett Aqua Sox
Craig is an opportunistic base stealer and doesn't project to be a big time threat as he progresses through the minors. But Craig is advanced in his approach to stealing a base, unlike many prospects his age (19). Expect 20+ from Craig unless he fills out and becomes more of a power threat from the plate.
8. Francisco Gerez, 2B, Peoria Mariners
Gerez is in his first official year in the organization after being signed out of the summer leagues. The 19-year-old swiped 98 bases in three seasons in the Latin Leagues through 2003. Successful in five of his first seven tries this season, Gerez is proving that his speed and base running skills are translating very well to the American minor leagues.
7. Yung-Chi-Chen, 2B/SS, Everett Aqua Sox
Chen is somewhat like Craig in the way that his hitting skills might dictate how much he runs. Fully capable of stealing 40+ per season, the Taiwanese signee could develop some power as he matures and this could take away some stolen base opportunities. For the meantime, the 21-year-old should run quite a bit and is off to a fast start, stealing 10 of 12 for the Sox so far this summer.
6. Jon Nelson, OF, Inland Empire 66ers
Nelson is not your prototypical base stealer. Standing 6-foot, 5-inches, and weighing in at 220 pounds, Nelson resembles Ron Artest a lot more than he does Rickey Henderson. The 24-year-old began the 2004 season with 17 steals in his two seasons as a Mariner prospect. Through games of July 6th, Nelson was 18 for 23 in stolen base attempts and leads the 66ers in that category. Nelson should always remain a threat with his athleticism, but is rarely going to top the 30-steal plateau. But another thing you won't see is a lot of caught-stealings in Nelson's stat line. Efficiency is his game.
5. Gary Harris, OF, Inland Empire 66ers
Harris is 16 of 23 this season but due to his new role as a middle-of-the-order hitter, hasn't been running as much as he normally would. The 24-year-old outfielder stole 36 in 2003 with Wisconsin and is fully capable of bettering the 30 mark on a yearly basis. Harris should return to the no. 2 hole in the lineup as he moves up level after level and that alone should help his numbers in the steals department.
4. Shin-soo Choo, OF, San Antonio Missions
Choo has enough speed to lead the league in steals and triples, and is starting to put things together. Entering 2004, the South Korean native had 69 steals in 100 attempts for a success percentage of exactly 69%. This season Choo has used his experience over the last few seasons to clean up the "CS" column and has stolen 18 bases in 21 tries. Choo's best talent is his toolsy makeup but will need to hit enough to put him in situations to use his speed to his advantage.
3. Luis Ugueto, UT, Tacoma Rainiers
If Ugueto was cut loose he could probably steal 50 or more bags in a season at any level. Successful in 10 of his 14 big-league attempts, the 25-year-old has stolen 13 of 18 with the Rainiers this year. Ugueto's hard work and blazing speed allow for him to stretch for the extra-base as well as steal on any pitcher-catcher combination he faces.
2. Elpidio Guzman, OF, Tacoma Rainiers
Perhaps the smartest base stealer in the organization, Guzman has 243 career steals in 825 games in the minors. Guzman told InsidethePark.com that the key to stealing bases is the matter between your ears, plus a ton of experience. The 27-year-old is 17 of 23 this season and has only been picked off 10 times in his entire career. Watch for Guzman to remain a fixture on the bases for Tacoma as he races around Cheney Stadium.
1. Jamal Strong, OF, Tacoma Rainiers
Clearly the most gifted runner in the Mariners organization including the big leagues, Strong's leg injuries are the only obstacle between dozens of steals and a call up to the big leagues. The 25-year-old Nebraska product swiped 82 bases in two stops through the system in 2001, and has 229 career steals in the equivalent of four full seasons. If given a chance, a healthy Strong is more than capable of topping the 40 mark on a yearly basis in the majors.
Jason welcomes your questions and comments at DiamondGenius@hotmail.com