Prospect Review: Starting Pitchers

In part one of five, analyzes the season that was for the top prospects in the Mariners farm system. We start on the mound where Jason A. Churchill takes a look at the starting pitchers who sat atop last year's prospect rankings.

Clint Nageotte, RHP
Age at end of 2004: 23
2003: 11-7, 3.10 ERA, 154 IP, 157 K @ AA-San Antonio
Post-2003 Ranking: No. 1 SP, No. 1 overall
2004: 6-6, 4.46 ERA, 80 IP, 63 K @ AAA-Tacoma, 1-6, 7.36 ERA, 36.2 IP, 24 K @ Seattle

The Good:
Heading into the 2004 season, Nageotte was on the fast track following his third straight season in which he led his league in strikeouts. The Ohio native started well but faded somewhat before being pre-maturely called up to the major leagues. The positive side of things is that the experience of making severe adjustments is over and done with and Nageotte simply needs to come back and throw strikes. Without his best stuff all season, including the worst command of his career, the right-hander battled for every single out.

The Bad:
The struggles of the hard-throwing slider specialist can be blamed on two factors. A loss of velocity and a stiff back that bothered Nageotte for a lot longer than he led on, forced Nageotte to pick at the corners with a sub par fastball and the worst control he has displayed since signing with the M's five years ago. When your used to rushing it up to the plate as high as 94-mph, and you can't seem to top 91 on the gun, your heater becomes very hittable and the slider becomes that much less effective. There weren't many positive stats in Nageotte's time in the big leagues.

The Necessary:
For starters, Nageotte must be 100% healthy. Any recurring back problem robs any hurler of full velocity and especially cripples a power pitcher's ability to make pitches. Re-establishing the fastball in the 91 to 94-mph range is essential to Nageotte's progress and will be the key to his road back to the major leagues. The recovery of velocity and health would allow Nageotte to pitch with confidence and avoid the dreaded control problem.

Travis Blackley, LHP
Age at end of 2004: 21
2003: 17-3, 2.61 ERA, 162.1 IP, 144 K @ AA-San Antonio
Post-2003 Ranking: No. 2 SP, No. 3 overall
2004: 8-6, 3.83 ERA, 110.1 IP, 80K @ AAA-Tacoma, 1-3, 10.04 ERA, 26 IP, 16 K @ Seattle

The Good:
Blackley was leading the Pacific Coast League in ERA when the M's came calling at mid-season. The flame out after six tough starts in the majors was more due to injury than anything as the left-hander lost velocity from the high-80's down into the 82-mph range. The experience was very positive for the M's 2003 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and the head on his shoulders is far more capable of handling the tough situations than he got credit for this past season. Color 2004 a learning experience and look for a healthy Blackley to prove the critics wrong.

The Bad:
The worst thing about Blackley's 2004 was the injury. He had three bad outings when he was healthy-out of 19- and was dominating in the minors against some of the league's best hitting teams. The concern over his injury is that the tired, sore arm he felt in August is more than just tendonitis but the latest exam did not show any major damage and he is expected to fire it back up in February.

The Necessary:
Blackley is scheduled to rehab the injury in a similar manner as M's closer Eddie Guardado and the results are extremely vital. This winter is crucial for Blackley's future and could determine whether he spends all of 2005 on the field or on the disabled list. When on the hill, Blackley must have his change up to be effective at the major league level. He proved he could dominate in Triple-A without it but add an 88-mph fastball and a Tom Glavine-like change to his arsenal and you have Jamie Moyer's replacement, starting in 2006.

Rett Johnson, RHP
Age at end of 2004: 25
2003: 11-4, 2.63 ERA, 154 IP, 112 K @ AA-San Antonio, AAA- Tacoma
Post-2003 Ranking: No. 3 SP, No. 4 overall
2004: 0-2, 7.97 ERA, 20.1 IP, 14 K

The Good:
The only positive to Johnson's '04 campaign is that he did get on the mound and pitch against live competition. After a stellar 2003, Johnson was primed and ready and take the final step toward the majors and as it ended up it was an accomplishment just to puton a uniform.

The Bad:
Where do we start? Johnson began 2004 by briefly leaving spring camp and when he returned he couldn't find the plate. Whatever was wrong with Johnson last season, we may never know as the real issues were never made public. When he finally did get back, Johnson's velocity was understandably low and his command resembled that of a rusty pitcher.

The Necessary:
First off, Johnson needs a positive winter of workouts followed by a healthy spring-both physically and mentally. A productive spring could mean a return to the high minors, which is where he belongs.

Felix Hernandez, RHP
Age at end of 2004:18
2003: 7-2, 2.22 ERA, 69 IP, 91 K @ SS-Everett, A-Wisconsin
Post-2003 Ranking: No. 4 SP, No. 7 overall
2004:14-4, 2.95 ERA, 149.1 IP, 172 K @ A+-Inland Empire, AA-San Antonio

The Good:
The list of the good for Hernandez could take forever to get through, so in attempt to sum it up, here goes. Felix Hernandez is the best prospect in baseball. He is the best pitching prospect, the best overall prospect, just the best. His numbers are very good and border on ridiculous when you consider he turned 18 a few days after the season started. Hernandez dominated the California League and then tortured the Double-A Texas League in a similar fashion. Displaying impeccable command to go along with his three plus pitches and advanced mound presence, Hernandez was as impressive as any player in all of baseball, at any level. Sporting an ERA in the low-3's versus one of the best hitting leagues in the minors plants sickening thoughts to the hitters that will face him on a regular basis from here on out.

The Bad:
I'm really reaching here because there just wasn't anything that falls under "bad" for Hernandez in 2004. If anything, his workload is an issue. No, he isn't overworked, the Mariners kept his numbers in a reasonable range. His lack of a top-end innings total is the worst aspect of what he has done in just under two season in the pros, but it's also a necessary evil considering he won't be 20-years-old until just after opening day of 2006.

The Necessary:
Simply put- more of the same. For Hernandez to succeed beyond Double-A, he must continue to attack the strike zone with the fastball and use his curve and change in counts that favor the pitcher. He has done this consistently since starting '03 in Everett and there is no reason to expect anything less from the Venezuelan teenager.

Bobby Livingston, LHP
Age at end of 2004: 22
2003: 15-7, 2.73 ERA, 178 IP, 105 K @ A-Wisconsin
Post-2003 Ranking: No. 7 SP, No. 21 overall
2004: 12-6, 3.57 ERA, 186.2 IP, 141 K

The Good:
Livingston took a solid step forward as he battled solid lineups in the California League all season. After a flawless first two months, the left-hander struggled a bit as teams started catching up with his stuff. The best part about his 2004 season is that he made the adjustment and finished strong.

The Bad:
Livingston may have shown that he has hit a wall as far as progress is concerned. The 22-year-old will need to continue to re-invent himself to stay successful enough to continue to move through the system. The good news is, he has the maturity and intelligence to do so.

The Necessary:
It might be necessary for Livingston to add a pitch or tweak the fastball in a few different directions to keep hitters off balance. If the southpaw could find a way to add a few miles per hour on his 85-87 MPH heater, that wouldn't be bad either.

Bobby Madritsch, LHP,
Age at end of 2004: 28
2003: 13-7, 3.63 ERA, 158.2 IP, 154 K @ AA-San Antonio
Post-2003 Ranking: No. 8 SP, No. 23 overall
2004: 5-2, 3.75 ERA, 62.1 IP, 53 K @ AAA-Tacoma, 6-3, 3.27 ERA, 88 IP, 60 K @ Seattle

The Good:
Madritsch took his mature approach from Triple-A Tacoma into the Mariners rotation and made it look like he was just kidding around in the minors. The former Reds draft pick displayed great command and the fire and determination of a pitcher that never wants to see the minor leagues again. Mission Accomplished-he won't.

The Bad:
The only negative is that Madritsch will be 29 when the '05 season begins and he is already at his physical peak. It's a good thing he already has a clue what he is doing on the mound and his status as a young pitcher is still solid.

The Necessary:
Staying healthy could be the sole concern with the Illinois native. An oblique injury limited the left-hander to 12 starts with Tacoma and cost him a call up in late June. There were no signs that the injury was going to continue and Madritsch has no history of missing time.

Next: Joe Kaiser reviews the system's top outfielders, Wednesday, November 10.

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