Matt Tuiasosopo's terrific season split between the Arizona Rookie League and the Northwest League is proof that the M's made the correct choice with their first pick, the 93rd overall and the 22nd selection in the third round.
Most clubs passed on Tuiasosopo in fear that he would pass on baseball and enroll at the University of Washington to play quarterback for their storied football program.
Instead, the 18-year-old out of Woodinville High School would sign for 1st-round money and perform like the top talent he was paid as.
In his 28 games with Peoria, Tuiasosopo hit .412/.528/.721 with four home runs and 12 RBI, forcing the club to promote the teenager to challenge his natural skills at the next level.
With the Everett Aqua Sox, Tuiasosopo got off to a torrid start by getting hits in his first four games, including a home run and three doubles. The verdict was in. The kid can hit.
Even after his numbers fell to .248/.336/.386 as the opposing pitchers finally found a few ways to get him out, Tui's season was a stellar success and the transition from the aluminum bat to the wooden sort was over, done with, and quite frankly, never a factor.
Kudos to the M's, not only for drafting the best player on the board, but getting him signed even after it became clear he was looking for a first-round payday that ended up breaking a record for a third-round choice at $2.29 million.
3rd-round, Matt Tuiasosopo, Woodinville, Wash.- Grade: A
In the fourth round the M's pegged University of Houston catcher Robert Johnson as the club's next attempt to solve the long time catching issues.
Johnson signed for $260,000 and bounced between Peoria and Everett and never really got in a groove with the bat. Johnson is still considered a solid defensive talent and his skills as a catch-and-throw backstop are major league projectable.
After a .234/.286/.338 showing in the Northwest League, the 23-year-old was shipped to Peoria to keep him in the lineup on a regular basis.
The consistent playing time didn't help much as Johnson continued to struggle with the bat, as the designated hitter. The .222/.323/.259 showing wasn't what the M's had in mind and neither was the injury problem that limited Johnson to six games behind the plate.
4th Round, Robert Johnson, U. of Houston-Grade: D
Fifth-round pick Mark Lowe pitched out of the bullpen for Everett, after signing for $170,000, and flashed the stuff the M's were hoping to see, but also displayed some inconsistencies. His line (1-2, 4.93, 38K, 38.1ip, 7 saves) wasn't as impressive as his stuff would suggest but the sample size is too small to put too much stock into.
Lowe is actually quite a bit like his namesake, Red Sox right-hander Derek Lowe, using a sinking, low 90's fastball to pound hitters inside and a solid slider to get them out in front and roll over the top.
With a serviceable changeup, the University of Texas-Arlington standout could be a solid starting pitcher that can possibly be groomed as a closer.
Like most pitchers just out of college, Lowe's second season, likely to begin in either Wisconsin or Inland Empire, is the key to the start of his pro career and will shed some light on his prospect status.
5th Round, Mark Lowe, U. Texas-Arlington-Grade: B
Round six produced a speedy outfielder from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Jermaine Brock began his first season as a professional in Peoria after signing for $135,000 and spent most of the season trying to get acclimated to his new surroundings and his performance wasn't indicative of the 18-year-old's talents.
Hitting just .248/.281/.317 with five stolen bases, Brock's job is to get on base at a high rate and use his natural speed to set the table for the bigger hitter. To do so, he must get better at recognizing pitches and focus on making more contact (33 K in 129 PA's). This is something the Ottawa High School product knows, and has an idea of what to do to fix.
"Use my speed, be more patient at the plate and become more of a base hit hitter," Brock told InsidethePark.com. "I should have had more on the bases, but that's just apart of learning the game."
The Mariners would love to see Brock run and hit his way up to the lead off spot and become the next Jamal Strong.
6th Round, Jermaine Brock, Grand Rapids, Michigan-Grade: C-
The next four rounds would net the Mariners three college players and a high schooler from the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy.
Seventh-round choice Sebastian Boucher signed late ($90,000) and didn't play in 2004, but the speed demon from Bethune-Cookman College is expected to provide the farm system with an athletic, experienced outfielder with multiple talents.
Eighth-rounder Marshall Hubbard signed for $85,000 and headed for the Northwest League. Hubbard hit .275/.361/.392 with two home runs for the Everett Aqua Sox, playing 1B. The University of North Carolina product struggled making consistent contact which resulted in 52 strikeouts in 216 plate appearances. The left-handed power, however, will be a welcomed addition to the system as Hubbard gets accustomed to the wooden bat.
Jeffrey Dominguez was the ninth-round pick, and the high-schooler out of Puerto Rico signed ($70,000) and reported to Peoria. Dominguez didn't seem ready for the challenge, hitting just .222/.288/.247 in 45 games.
Dominguez struggled in the field as well, committing 15 errors in 37 games at shortstop and 10 at second base.
The M's 10th-round choice was Delaware State right-hander Eric Carter. Carter went 2-4 in Peoria with a 4.26 ERA in 44.1 innings and struck out 35 after signing for $55,000. Carter's 25 walks was the lone blemish of a successful debut.
The Mariners signed 15 other draftees including 14th-rounder Brent Johnson, OF, UNLV, Chad Fillinger, RHP, Santa Clara U., Jack Arroyo, 2B, Sacramento State, Brandon Green, SS, Wichita State, Mumba Rivera, RHP, Bethune-Cookman, David Hall, OF, San Diego State, Greg Slee, C, Hunting College, Joe Jacobitz, C/OF, U. of San Francisco, Aaron Trolia, RHP, Washington State, Adam Brandt, LHP, Otterbein College, Michael Ciccotelli, LHP, Villanova, Don Clement, RHP, U. of Col. State Pueblo, Marquise Liverpool, Don Bosco Prep, Ramsey, N.J., Harold Williams, LHP, Mt. San Jacinto JC.
Twelfth-round pick, LHP Steve Uhlmansiek, had Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2004 season and is expected to be ready for spring training in February.
The Wichita State product is thought to be a potential surprise and many believe the M's saved their draft with Uhlmansiek and Tuiasosopo.
"Once he's healthy, Uhlmansiek could be another steal," said Baseball America's Executive Editor Jim Callis.
Considering the lack of picks high in the draft, the Mariners did fairly well for themselves and took a risk in handing a high school kid a record bonus. They were rewarded when Tuiasosopo had a great first season but didn't have much luck with the next seven rounds.
As is for every draft, it's too early to tell for sure, but the Mariners grade out in the middle of the pack for the 2004 draft.