M's Prospect Positional Rankings: Third Base

Third base has been a weakness in the Mariners' farm system for a number of years, and that might have been the case again in 2004 had it not been for the emergence of several players. Which of the third basemen rank atop the list heading into 2005? You'll have to read the story to find out.

Justin Leone

Opening Day Age: 28
Born: Las Vegas, NV
Height/Weight: 6-1/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
2004 Teams: Tacoma, Seattle

2004 Positional Ranking: 1
2005 Positional Ranking: 1

2004: .269, 21 HR, 51 RBI at Tacoma, .216, 6 HR, 13 RBI at Seattle

One of the keys to Tacoma's incredible offensive attack last season, the St. Martin's College product blasted Pacific Coast League pitching for the first half of the season and earned his first trip to the big leagues in the middle of the summer. While others like Bucky Jacobson, A.J. Zapp and Jose Lopez got more notoriety, Leone quietly went about his business averaging a homer in every 12 at bats.

The promotion of Greg Dobbs to Tacoma in June caused Leone get a look in left field with the Rainiers, and he proved more than capable out there. In the majors, though, he'll likely stick to third base, a position that he played very well at Tacoma before moving up to Seattle. Once in the bigs in 2004, a couple early errors appeared to get in his head and snowballed in 9 miscues in 31 games. Don't be fooled by that high total. The former shortstop is a steady third baseman with a strong arm and good range.

2005 Projection:
The question with Leone shouldn't be as much his defense as his penchant for the strikeout. Some scouts question whether he can catch up to the major league fastball, but it's his ability to fight off breaking balls that is going to have to improve drastically if he has any shot to become an every day player in the big leagues. Look for Leone to at best provide the Mariners with a cheap option off the bench, and at worst be back in Tacoma as a starter.

Greg Dobbs

Opening Day Age: 26
Born: Las Angeles, CA
Height/Weight: 6-1/205
Bats/Throws: L/R
2004 Teams: San Antonio, Tacoma, Seattle

2004 Positional Ranking: 2
2005 Positional Ranking: 2

2004: .325, 5 HR, 34 RBI at San Antonio, .271, 8 HR, 31 RBI at Tacoma, .226, 1 HR, 9 RBI at Seattle

Dobbs has two advantages over Leone in that he is both a year younger and left-handed. The one main thing working against him, however, might be the most important – he doesn't have nearly the pop in his bat that his counterpart does. Regardless of that, Dobbs is a tireless worker who gets the most out of his abilities on the baseball field. He isn't one to get a ton of extra base hits, but that hasn't stopped him from hitting over .300 five times in the minors.

A sure-handed defender with an average arm for a third baseman, Dobbs didn't hurt his chances with a fine final month of the season in Seattle. He homered in his first big league at bat – not a bad way to start – and provided the M's with a dependable glove at the hot corner.

2005 Projection:
It's hard to imagine a scenario in which both Dobbs and Leone don't make the M's final roster out of spring training, and if one were to make it Leone would likely get the nod ahead of Dobbs. The reason is simply the role that would be needed. As the last bench player, the M's would be more likely to go with a bigger bat than a solid glove. Dobbs will do all in his power to gain a roster spot in March, but will begin the season at Tacoma barring a torrid spring performance.

Jesus Guzman

Opening Day Age: 20
Born: Venezuela
Height/Weight: 6-1/165
Bats/Throws: R/R
2004 Teams: Inland Empire

2004 Positional Ranking: N/A
2005 Positional Ranking: 3

2004: .310, 6 HR, 71 HR

Pundits say that Guzman doesn't have the tools to become a high-profile prospect; he is neither a burner on the bases or a powerfully built player. But Guzman, lets not forget, made a huge splash in 2004 as a 20-year-old in his first season in America. Skipping Everett and Wisconsin, Guzman joined Inland Empire to fill out the roster when Michael Garciaparra and Ismael Castro both went down with injuries in April. First thought of as a short-term fix, Guzman stuck for the season and excelled in the California League. He led the 66ers with 35 doubles, hit to all fields and showed good patience at the plate with 57 walks.

The every-day third baseman from May through the end of the season, Guzman had some rough stretches but put together a decent season defensively. He'll have to improve his ability to make the routine play.

2005 Projection:
One of the organization's top surprises in 2004, Guzman's stellar campaign in Inland Empire will almost surely earn him a promotion to San Antonio to start next season. The Missions will need a third baseman, and Guzman is the man for the job.

Hunter Brown

Opening Day Age: 25
Born:Houston, TX
Height/Weight: 6-2/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
2004 Teams: San Antonio

2004 Positional Ranking: 3
2005 Positional Ranking: 4

2004: .286, 13 HR, 52 RBI

Brown could easily be higher on this list after posting his finest pro season with the Missions. Had Leone and Dobbs stayed in the big leagues a little longer to use up their prospect status, and Guzman never been called up to Inland Empire, Brown could conceivably be the organization's top third baseman.

One of the best pure hitters in the M's system, Brown sacrificed a little power for a lot of average in San Antonio (.248 with 15 HR in 2003 to .286 with 13 HR in 2004). Over the course of the season, he was one of the few players on the Missions avoid any long slumps at the plate and he managed to do it while playing at second base and first base as well as the hot corner. Missions longtime radio announcer Roy Acuff called Brown the "best defender he's seen in all his years of minor league baseball."

2005 Projection:
Add Brown to the logjam at the hot corner in Tacoma. The difference with Brown, though, is that his versatility makes him a prime candidate to slide over to second or first base if Dobbs and/or Leone are on the Rainiers roster as well. Either way, Brown did more than enough at San Antonio to earn a promotion to Tacoma for next season.

Jeff Flaig

Opening Day Age:20
Born: La Miranda, CA
Height/Weight: 6-2/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
2004 Teams: Peoria

2004 Positional Ranking: N/A
2005 Positional Ranking: 5

2004: .252, 0 HR, 12 RBI

Flaig was the Mariners second-round selection (56th overall) in the 2003 amateur draft, and his pro career has taken a while to get started. After signing late and missing the 2003 season, the 19-year-old finally got on the field in 2004 with the Arizona Mariners in the Arizona Rookie League.

His impact was minimal, but coming off a high school shoulder injury those results weren't completely unexpected. Flaig, who experts compared to Troy Glaus heading into the 2003 draft, failed to hit a homer in 107 at bats down in the light air of Peoria, Ariz., but did manage five doubles, a triple and four steals.

2005 Projection:
Flaig will more than likely begin the season in June with the Everett AquaSox. While tempting to send him to Wisconsin for the first half of the season, there are two reasons that won't happen – 1) he has to develop and show more improvement before making that jump; and 2) Wisconsin will already be stocked with players capable of playing third (Brent Johnson, Yung-Chi Chen, Matt Tuiasosopo).

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