Prospect Review: The Organizational Pull

The Seattle Mariners went into the 2004 season with a strong farm system, weighted heavily by three of the game's top 40 minor league pitching prospects and depth in the pitching department in which most teams are navy blue with envy.

The strength of the farm system was clearly the arms stockpiled in the middle of the minors and this past season was a chance for the most advanced arms of the group to make their statements.

Travis Blackley and Clint Nageotte began their season in Triple-A Tacoma and through the month of May, all was fine and dandy.

Nageotte was a little bit inconsistent but showed flashes of the dominant stuff he displayed in 2003.

After a few mediocre starts to begin the year, Travis Blackley tuned it up and became the Pacific Coast League's best pitcher. Blackley led the league in ERA before being called up to the M's on July 1.

Nageotte was the first to get the big-league nod, and after struggling in eight of his 12 appearances, the M's exchanged Nageotte for Blackley on the shuttle between Tacoma and Seattle.

Blackley didn't fare any better, piling up 22 walks in just 26 innings of work.

The 2004 season was a disappointment for the two top pitching prospects in the organization, so what does that do to the overall view of the M's farm system?

Never fear, Kid K is here. All hail King Felix.

On April 15, the Inland Empire 66ers took on the Bakersfield Blaze and the Blaze starter, Chris Seddon, held the 66ers to five hits and one earned run in six innings and struck out five without walking a batter.

But the 66ers entered the eighth inning with a 6-1 lead, thanks to the stellar pitching of rehabbing right-hander Rafael Soriano. Soriano's four strong innings yielded just two hits and ended with five strikeouts in all.

But the next five innings are what the ruckus was all about at Aarowhead Credit Union Park in San Bernardino on tax night.

After Soriano's stint was over, Felix Hernandez took the hill for the final five frames and lit the Blaze a new fire.

The right-hander allowed just two hits and two walks while striking out 10 Blaze batters on his way to win No. 2.

It wasn't the two-hit effort over five innings that had everyone talking. It wasn't the fact that Hernandez struck out 10 of the 19 hitters he faced.

The buzz was that a pitcher went five innings, struck out 10, allowed just two hits and two walks in a California League game- at age 18.

Hernandez turned 18 on April 8 and a week later was already the talk of minor league baseball.

Down in the depths of the system, left-handers Bobby Livingston, Thomas Oldham, Shawn Nottingham, Ryan Feierabend and Ryan Rowland-Smith all had solid seasons and raised their status to new heights.

Left-hander Bobby Madritsch took the biggest step up, going from Double-A San Antonio's No. 3 starter to possibly the same role on the big club in 2005.

Matt Thornton and J.J. Putz also saw a lot of time with the Mariners and Putz may have sewn up a spot on the roster in 2005.

After dominating hitters in the PCL for more than three months, left-hander George Sherrill took his nasty slider and great command to the big leagues and showed the club, and all of baseball, that he is more than just a journeyman minor leaguer. Sherrill is a lock to begin the 2005 season in the Mariners bullpen.

The bread and butter of the Mariners organization is in fine shape, despite the disappointing major league results put up by their top two prospects. Now that's depth.

At the plate and in the field, the Mariners have been lacking blue-chip talent for more than a few years. The most promising of the position player coming into the 2004 season were Chris Snelling, Jose Lopez and Jamal Strong.

Justin Leone, the 2003 Texas League MVP and M's Player of the Year, stepped up to Triple-A Tacoma with a chance to break into the big leagues during the year.

Snelling suffered yet another injury and missed virtually the entire season, save for 39 plate appearances in the Arizona Rookie League.

Strong started off fast but was slowed several times by a knee injury that ultimately cost him the balance of the season after requiring surgery.

Leone had a strong three months in Tacoma and was called up in July. The power display, despite the high strikeout totals, was impressive but the .216 batting average and eight errors make for a disappointing rookie season.

Former top pick Adam Jones finished a decent season in a pitcher's league with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and his 41 extra-base hits could be a sign that Jones is ready to break out.

The player of the year in 2004 was Missions outfielder Shin-soo Choo. Choo improved in most areas of his game and is one of the better outfield prospects in the minors after a season that saw him hit .315 with 15 home runs and 40 steals.

Jose Lopez had a great season in Tacoma and with a full season in Triple-A, may have broke the 20 home run mark for the season. The 20-year-old shortstop is probably looking at a big-league job in 2005 after hitting .295 with Tacoma and playing solid defense.

The thin group of position players was a major disappointment but most of that is due to injury, as top 2B prospect Ismael Castro can attest to. Castro, 21, was hitting .303/.343/.500 when he injured his knee after 16 games with Inland Empire.

Greg Dobbs made his move up the ladder this year- twice. Dobbs was hitting .325 in the Texas League when the M's sent him to Tacoma to replace Leone.

After a slow start in Triple-A, Dobbs hit .271 with eight home runs and earned a trip to the major leagues in September where he became the first Mariner to hit a home run in his first major league at-bat.

The left-handed Greg Jacobs made it through to Tacoma and his bat never stopped punishing baseballs. The 27-year-old has hit .310 or better at every stop since signing with the M's in 2003. Jacobs hit .310 with San Antonio and .320 with Tacoma.

Down in the Cal League, first basemen Jon Nelson made a few changes.

He became an outfielder and a good hitter all in one season.

Nelson hit just .254 in his first two pro seasons but in 2004, the 24-year-old busted out and ended the year at .303. Add that to the raw power he has always shown since being drafted, and Nelson had quite the year.

Does the name Wladimir Balentien sound familiar? Get use to it. The 19-year-old displayed some top-drawer raw power this season after breaking the single-season home run record in the Arizona Rookie League in 2003.

Balentien belted 17 home runs this season, 15 at Wisconsin, and showed the ability to make adjustments to the off-speed pitch on the outer half of the plate. In a few years, The Aruban-born Balentien could the club's best power prospect.

Missions infielder Hunter Brown had a fine season, going .286/.379 with 13 home runs in Double-A. Brown played 1B, 2B and 3B showed the ability to play all three very well.

Overall, the bats weren't nearly as impressive as were the arms, but then again, they weren't expected to be. The emergence of Nelson, and Everett 2B Oswaldo Navarro at the plate, helped save an average bunch from being less than mediocre.

Stock Up:
  • Felix Hernandez, RHP
  • Bobby Madritsch, LHP
  • Jose Lopez, SS
  • Greg Dobbs, 3B
  • Hunter Brown, 3B
  • Greg Jacobs, OF
  • Wladimir Balentien, OF
  • Randy Williams, LHP
  • Scott Atchison, RHP
  • J.J. Putz, RHP
  • George Sherrill, LHP
  • Brandon Moorhead, RHP
  • Thomas Oldham, LHP
  • Jon Nelson, OF
  • Oswaldo Navarro, 2B
  • Cesar Jimenez, LHP
  • Ryan Rowland-smith
  • Rich Dorman, RHP
  • Ryan Feierabend, LHP
  • Shawn Nottingham, LHP
  • Carlos Arroyo, OF
  • Jesus Guzman, 3B
  • T.J. Bohn, OF
  • Gary Harris, OF

  • Stock Down:
  • Clint Nageotte, RHP
  • Cha Seung Baek, RHP
  • Rene Rivera, C
  • Luis Oliveros, C
  • Josh Womack, OF
  • Chris Colton, OF
  • Craig Anderson, LHP
  • Rett Johnson, RHP
  • Emiliano Fruto, RHP
  • Troy Cate, LHP
  • Brandon Perry, LHP
  • Eric O'Flaherty, LHP
  • Matt Hagen, 1B
  • T.A. Fulmer, RHP
  • Elvis Perez, RHP
  • Jeremy Dutton, 1B
  • Mike Cox, 3B
  • Justin Ruchti, C
  • Casey Abrams, LHP

  • Stock Down-Due to Injury:
  • Travis Blackley, LHP
  • Chris Snelling, OF
  • Michael Garciaparra, 2B
  • Ismael Castro, 2B
  • Jamal Strong, OF
  • Ryan Christianson, C
  • Phil Cullen, RHP
  • Jeff Heaverlo, RHP
  • Aaron Looper, RHP
  • Aaron Taylor, RHP
  • Mike Steele, RHP

  • Biggest Jumps:
    Felix Hernandez
    Thomas Oldham
    Shawn Nottingham
    Jon Nelson

    Free Falling:
    Troy Cate
    Craig Anderson
    Matt Hagen
    Emiliano Fruto

    UP NEXT: 2005 Prospect Launch- 13 days and counting down.

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