Prospect Review: The Middle Infielders

From Jose Lopez to Michael Garciaparra, the middle infielders had an up-and-down 2004 season. With injuries playing a big part in the success, or lack thereof, what went right? what went wrong? What's next?

Jose Lopez, SS
Age at end of 2004: 20 2003: .258 AVG/.303 OBP/.403 SLG 13 HR, 69 RBI, 35 2B, 18 SB @ AA-San Antonio
Post-2003 Ranking: No. 1 MI, No. 2 overall
2004: .295/.342/.505, 13 HR, 39 RBI @ AAA-Tacoma, .232/.263/.367, 5 HR, 22 RBI @ Seattle

The Good:
What Lopez did at the dish in 2004 was a great sign that in 2006, the 20-year-old, 22 then, would be more than ready to take over at either shortstop or third. Unfortunately, he was forced into early duty and struggled to display similar skills against major league pitching. The best part about the entire year was that after his knee injury, Lopez hit well over .400 and improved his power numbers.

The Bad:
The Venezuelan still needs to work on being a little bit more patient at the plate and being somewhat more selective, especially when he is ahead in the count and can afford to take a few strikes. The slider away seems to be an organizational problem, but Jose is more equipped to correct that issue than any of the younger players with the exception of Jeremy Reed.

The Necessary:
Improved focus at the plate- as far as working the count goes- and a more consistent glove in the field would put Lopez in the upper echelon of young infielders in the American League. The M's prize infield prospect would benefit from another half season in Triple-A, but may not get it.

Ismael Castro, 2B
Age at end of 2004: 21
2003: .275/.314/.373/ 3 HR, 23 RBI, 9 SB @ A-Inland Empire
Post-2003 Ranking: No. 2 MI, No. 11 overall
2004: .303/.343/.500, 2 HR, 10 RBI @ A-Inland Empire

The Good:
The positive aspects of Castro's 2004 ended after 16 games but the small sample size show he was starting to turn the corner offensively. The Northwest League MVP in 2002 had been displaying the plate skills and added pop that the club asked from him and 2005 will be a critical season in Castro's development.

The Bad:
The shredding of the Anterior Cruciate and Medial Collateral ligaments and the ruptured Miniscus of Castro's knee is one of the most gruesome injuries to think about. Taking away a 21-year-old's third year of development isn't exactly something a club welcomes and Castro was one of the last players, due to his position at second base, that the M's would have cared to endure an injury with.

The Necessary:
Since Castro injured his knee early in '04, it's likely that he will be able to return very early in 2005, and possibly be ready by spring training. It's possible that the Columbian could play some 3B to keep the knee safe from collisions at the bag at second until the knee has more time to heal properly.

Adam Jones, SS
Age at end of 2004: 19
2003: .303/.392/.369, 12 RBI, 5 SB, 6 2B, 1 3B @ R-Peoria, A-Everett
Post-2003 Ranking: No. 3 MI, No. 12 overall
2004: .267/.314/.404, 11 HR, 72 RBI @ A-Wisconsin

The Good:
The M's top pick in 2003 might look like a bit of a disappointment when checking his numbers with the T-Rats last season. A little bit more investigating will reveal that he was 18 most of the year, hit in a tough hitter's league, and actually put up a decent stat line. Jones showed flashes of being a well-above-average defender and, at times, displayed the ability to hit to all fields and with a little bit of power.

The Bad:
Even as a teenager, Jones didn't make many positive strides in the area of plate patience and pitch selection. The 124 strikeout total isn't a huge concern but just 33 walks in 559 plate appearances is downright awful. As a shortstop, Jones needs to curb the idea that he has to make every amazing play he possibly can and concentrate on making the routine play without being error prone. Too many times in 2004, Jones tried to pull off a magic act, which is understandable for a player with such athletic ability and a cannon arm.

The Necessary:
Tighten the strike zone, add patience, and pounce like a cat. If Jones can be more selective at the plate and wait for the right pitch he could double his power numbers. In the field, a controlled, intelligent approach would probably serve him well.

Michael Garciaparra, 2B/SS
Age at end of 2004:21
2003: .243/.289/.314, 2 HR, 38 RBI @ A-Wisconsin
Post-2003 Ranking: No. 4 MI, No. 18 overall
2004: .226/.333/.316, 1 HR, 26 RBI @ A-Inland Empire

The Good:
Garciaparra seems to understand what hitting is all about and may have shown the world if it hadn't been for a wrist injury that limited the 21-year-old to just 275 plate appearances. Hitting just .226 in 70 games is a discouraging season left behind for the former first-round pick, but he did post a .333 on-base percentage due to 31 bases on balls. Garciaparra needs to be healthy and play every day, not two or three times a week, to re-gain the momentum he ended the 2003 season with.

The Bad:
Other than the injury to the wrist, Garciaparra is probably dealing with a permanent position change as he will likely play side-by-side with Adam Jones in 2005. Unless Jones shows he is unable to handle shortstop, Garciaparra is probably headed for a move to 2B- a move that could prove to be the best for all parties. It's difficult to judge a player's performance in a season where an injury was a big part of the player's struggles, but a .316 slugging percentage is something that needs to improve, and probably will with a clean bill of health.

The Necessary:
Garciaparra is another player that would naturally improve in all facets with a full season of healthy baseball. Maturing physically and gaining upper body strength is a necessity if Garciaparra is to move up the organization's system into the big leagues.

Oswaldo Navarro, 2B
Age at end of 2004: 20
2003: .258/.302/.318, 23 RBI, 16 SB
Post-2003 Ranking: No. 5 MI, No. 29 overall
2004: .211/.295/.248, 7 RBI @ A-Wisconsin, .273/.331/.393, HR, 30 RBI, 17 SB @ A-Everett

The Good:
Navarro began the year in the blistering cold weather in the Midwest League, hitting just .211 but turned his season around back in Everett. Moving to second base regularly allowed Navarro to sharpen his already–solid glove and his bat improved as the season moved along. Once thought to have virtually no power potential, Navarro's 29 extra-base hits were a pleasant surprise and could mean he is on the road to having gap power.

The Bad:
For a hitter without power numbers, Oz probably whiffed a bit too much in 2004. The 59 strikeouts in 295 plate appearances, while not awful, are more fitting of a run producer than a table-setting speedster. Navarro's weaker frame allows pitchers to bust in on him when ahead in the count and all Navarro can do is bounce out to third. Using his speed better will be crucial in the seasons ahead.

The Necessary:
Navarro, like Garciaparra, must add strength as he moves up the system and needs to find a way to utilize his speed more to his advantage. Defensively, Navarro just needs to stay consistent and sharpen his solid skills and mold them into top-drawer attributes.

Next: Wednesday, November 17, Jason A. Churchill reviews the Seattle Mariners farm system and the 2003 season.

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