M's Prospect Positional Rankings: SP's

The lifeforce of a baseball team is its pitching. The M's have depth in this area and most of it is within a few years of threatening the major league level. Felix is the no-brainer top arm, but who comes next?



 
Felix Hernandez

Opening Day Age: 18
Born: Valencia, VZ
Height/Weight: 6-3/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
2004 Teams: Inland Empire, San Antonio

2004 Positional Ranking: 4
2005 Positional Ranking: 1

   

2004: 9-3, 2.74 ERA, 92 IP, 114 K, 26 BB at Inland Empire; 5-1, 3.30 ERA, 57.1 IP, 58 K, 21 BB at San Antonio

Breakdown:
Hernandez split his season between the Advanced-A California League and Double-A San Antonio and impressed anyone in attendance at both levels. Despite being just 18 the entire season, The Venezuelan picked up right where he left off last summer when he wowed onlookers in the Midwest League with his electric stuff. The Mariners have harnessed Hernandez's arsenal somewhat by requesting that he stick with a three-pitch attack instead of complicating his development by throwing two separate breaking pitches. With a mid-90's fastball and a heavy, hammering curve, the M's top pitching prospect has very little need to throw the slider, which could possibly end up being his out pitch once he reaches the majors and his physical maturity peaks.

The general opinion of the organization is not to rush Hernandez but his dominating display of power pitching is impossible to try and keep their thumb on top of. The blue-chip combination of stuff and command at such a raw age is something the league hasn't seen since the 1980's when New York Mets right-hander Dwight Gooden was burning tracks through the minor leagues before making his major league debut as a 19-and-a-half-year-old. Hernandez has a legitimate chance to make his first appearance in a Mariners uniform at a younger age than Gooden did in 1984.

Built well at 6-3 and 210 pounds, Hernandez has ‘long-term staff ace' written all over him. The recent history of top pitching prospects in the Mariners organization creates somewhat of a false sense of caution when talks of promoting Hernandez surface. After watching Gil Meche, Ryan Anderson and Rafael Soriano all go down with either Tommy John surgery or rotator cuff injuries, the M's have kept a keen eye on their young pitchers and particularly Hernandez.

Since singing as a non-drafted free agent in July of 2002, Hernandez has done nothing but dominate wherever he has pitched. His first pro season produced a 7-2 record with a shiny 2.29 ERA as a 17-year-old and finished the 2003 season with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers where he made two more impressive starts, striking out 18 in 14 innings.

In his two seasons in the minor leagues, Hernandez has posted a 21-6 record, a 2.72 ERA and 263 strikeouts in 218 innings of work that cover 39 games and 34 starts. Maybe just as impressive as his sparkling set of primary numbers is that he has allowed just 11 long balls as a pro and thrown just 15 wild pitches, usually something young power pitchers struggle with early in their careers. After combining for 172 strikeouts in just 149.1 innings this past season, Hernandez looks to be primed and ready for anything put in front of him from here on out.

2005 Projection:
With less than nothing to prove in Double-A, where Hernandez often embarrassed experienced hitters that possess twice the professional experience, the prize of the Mariners farm system is slated to start his 2005 season in the Pacific Coast League with the Tacoma Rainiers. In Triple-A, King Felix will work closely with Rafael Chaves, the gem pitching guru who will be back for his second season with the Rainiers. Chaves has yet to work with Hernandez outside minor league camp in spring training but is credited with much of the development of several of the young pitchers in the M's organization, including Travis Blackley, Clint Nageotte as well as being a large reason why Gil Meche found his way back to the majors last summer. If Chaves can do anything similar for Hernandez, the teen sensation might be ready for a test in the show before Mariners fans can say "June Swoon."


 
Travis Blackley

Opening Day Age: 22
Born: Melbourne, AU
Height/Weight: 6-2/185
Bats/Throws: L/L
2004 Teams: Tacoma, Seattle

2004 Positional Ranking: 2
2005 Positional Ranking: 2

   

2004: 8-6, 3.83 ERA, 110.1 IP, 80 K, 47 BB at Tacoma; 1-3, 10.04 ERA, 26 IP, 16 K, 22 BB at Seattle

Breakdown
After lighting the Texas League on fire in 2003, Blackley took his pinpoint control and solid stuff to Triple-A Tacoma and headed into the All-Star Break as the PCL's leader in ERA. Blackley was called up the big leagues on July 1 and after a solid first start, lost velocity and command was being battered around like a batting practice hurler. Shortly following his return to Tacoma on August 1, Blackley was placed on the disabled list with tendonitis in his left shoulder. The shoulder pain was the likely culprit for the loss in velocity that first appeared in his final three starts with Seattle. Without his usual 85-88 MPH fastball, Blackley' secondary pitches became much less effective and the southpaw was forced to pick the corners and stay off the plate.

Blackley went into the offseason with a rehab plan and an eye on 2005. The '04 season was not a loss for Blackley, however, as he proved he can handle Triple-A hitters on a consistent basis as well as compete at the big-league level, when healthy. Pitching the majority of the season without a key pitch in his arsenal, Blackley battled game in and game out, and relentlessly refused to pack it in until the tendonitis was just not worth pushing any further. If his change up returns in 2005, the skies will be blue all day and night for the Australian left-hander.

2005 Projection:
A sound left shoulder to start the 2005 season would have Blackley, yet again, on the brink of the major leagues. Re-gaining his form shouldn't be much of a problem and a return to Triple-A Tacoma should hold off the pressure of proving himself in a Mariners uniform. M's fans that want to see Blackley pitch in Tacoma shouldn't wait too long. If the shoulder has recovered fully, a call up probably isn't too far behind. The Mariners are itching to see Blackley go at a major league lineup with a healthy arm.


 
Clint Nageotte

Opening Day Age: 24
Born: Parma, OH
Height/Weight: 6-3/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
2004 Teams: Tacoma, Seattle

2004 Positional Ranking: 1
2005 Positional Ranking: 3

   

2004: 6-6, 4.46 ERA, 80.2 IP, 63 K, 35 BB at Tacoma; 1-6, 7.36 ERA, 36.2 IP, 24 K, 27 BB at Seattle

Breakdown:
Nageotte began the season as InsidethePark.com's No. 1 M's prospect but never really got on track to display the stuff he used to light the Texas League on fire in 2003. After an inconsistent first two months to start the year, Nageotte, somewhat inexplicably, was called up the show on June 1. Nageotte was victorious is just one of seven decisions and posted a gaudy ERA over seven-but it didn't start out that way.

After a slightly shaky relief showing in his first major league appearance, Nageotte was given his first start six days later and held the Houston Astros scoreless for six innings. The slider specialist had his command and his out pitch both working that night as he struck out eight Astros and walked just three. Nageotte's second start was a solid five-inning outing in Milwaukee, giving up just two earned runs and three hits.

The rest of the innings Nageotte pitched looked more like a clinic on what not to do as a pitcher- fall behind in the count. It was clear that Nageotte lost confidence in his fastball and his command, which hadn't been very good at any point during the season, took a dive when the right-hander's velocity went south soon after his initial call-up. After Nageotte and Blackley swapped spots twice between Seattle and Triple-A Tacoma, the Ohio native continued to struggle, this time from the bullpen.

Then-manager Bob Melvin didn't use Nageotte properly, forcing him to sit for long periods between outings, including four straight appearances with more than five days of rest. Inconsistent usage is never a positive for pitchers and is an especially dooming venture for a rookie who has always been a starter and is being asked to serve in relief.

When Nageotte's season ended after his three-inning stint on August 28 and was placed on the disabled list with a sore lower back. Nageotte will be 100% when spring training rolls around and needs to rebound to retain higher status.

2005 Projection:
The 24-year-old right-hander will likely start 2005 where he began the 2004 season; in Tacoma with the Rainiers and the prince of pitching, Rafael Chaves. Repeating Triple-A is a positive for Nageotte as he tries to regain the form that helped him win three consecutive strikeout titles prior to last season. Better control, more consistency and the development of a third pitch are all crucial aspects of Nageotte's progress.


 
Cha Seung Baek

Opening Day Age: 22
Born: Pusan, Korea
Height/Weight: 6-4/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
2004 Teams: Tacoma, Seattle

2004 Positional Ranking: 5
2005 Positional Ranking: 4

   

2004: 5-4, 4.21 ERA, 72.2 IP, 56 K, 24 BB at Tacoma; 2-4, 5.52 ERA, 31 IP, 20 K, 11 BB at Seattle

Breakdown:
Baek's season started out as a bit of a disappointment when the Korean native couldn't get through the sixth inning and then went down with an injured finger on his pitching hand. Upon his return from the disabled list, Baek continued with the five-inning wall and struggled early in games far too often. Seemingly, Baek did build some endurance and get into the sixth enough to earn a call up - first in early August and then again later in the month when Nageotte was placed on the DL.

Used in relief in his first two outings, Baek was given the chance to start five games to end the year. After struggling mightily in the first four, the 23-year-old went eight shutout innings in a 9-0 win over Texas.

Overall, Baek's mediocre season did very little to convince anyone that he has a future in the major leagues, but the right-hander has decent stuff and decent command and will probably get another shot to prove his worth.

2005 Projection:
Baek is another repeat candidate for Triple-A Tacoma's starting rotation and will probably go quiet and unnoticed once again. This "under-the-radar" approach will last longer than he wants if he can't start faster than he did a year ago. Depending on the injury factor, Baek is one of the candidates to get a call up, should the need arise.


 
Bobby Livingston

Opening Day Age: 22
Born: Lubbock, TX
Height/Weight: 6-3/195
Bats/Throws: L/L
2004 Teams: Inland Empire

2004 Positional Ranking: NR
2005 Positional Ranking: 5

   

2004: 12-6, 3.57 ERA, 186.2 IP, 141 K, 30 BB at Inland Empire

Breakdown:
Livingston started the season red hot and after a small snag in the middle of the summer, the southpaw finished strong to complete a fine season in the California League. The M's fourth-round pick in 2001, Livingston did everything the club asked of him this past season and as he continues to learn to pitch without top drawer stuff, the 22-year-old moves one step up the ladder in the minors.

Lacking the high-octane to overpower hitters, Livingston uses guts, guile and pitching smarts to get outs, and other than Travis Blackley, Livingston is likely the M's pitcher that best uses his fire and intelligence to his advantage. Topping out in the 86-88 MPH range, Livingston's control and solid change up are his bread and butter. Using his strengths as much as possible, the 66ers staff ace had a fine 2004 campaign.

2005 Projection:
Naturally, Livingston is scheduled to start the season at Double-A San Antonio and will undoubtedly face the biggest challenge of his career. The bats in the Texas League will be much more experienced and advanced than those in the Cal League a year ago. This is where a pitcher wins with adjustments and Livingston is capable of doing just that.


 
Thomas Oldham

Opening Day Age: 22
Born: Freemont, NE
Height/Weight: 6-2/210
Bats/Throws: L/L
2004 Teams: Wisconsin, Inland Empire

2004 Positional Ranking: NR
2005 Positional Ranking: 6

   

2004: 6-6, 2.93 ERA, 116.2 IP, 132 K, 30 BB at Wisconsin; 4-3, 3.21 ERA, 42 IP, 56 K, 6 BB at Inland Empire

Breakdown:
Somehow sliding in under the radar, the former Creighton Blue Jays star had a superb 2004 season. In just under 160 innings, Oldham walked only 36 batters, including just six in 42 innings pitched with the 66ers. The 22-year-old led the entire organization in strikeouts with 188 and posted a strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 188 to 36.

Oldham has succeeded at all three stops he has made as a pro and is proof that pre-draft statistics mean very little. In his three seasons at Creighton, the left-hander never posted an ERA under 3.90 and combined for a 5.02 mark overall. Since being the M's eight-round choice in 2003, Oldham hasn't been over 3.21 and has a career 2.96 earned run average.

Using an upper 80's fastball and impeccable control, Oldham baffled hitters in both the Midwest and California League's and had little trouble adjusting to the promotion.

2005 Projection:
Oldham should have little problem earning a spot with the Double-A San Antonio Missions to start 2005, joining Livingston in the rotation. Watch for Oldham to open some eyes with the Missions.


 
Shawn Nottingham

Opening Day Age: 20
Born: Massilon, OH
Height/Weight: 6-1/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
2004 Teams: Everett, Tacoma

2004 Positional Ranking: NR
2005 Positional Ranking: 7

   

2004: 9-3, 3.15 ERA, 88.2 IP, 87 K, 29 BB at Everett

Breakdown:
Nottingham followed up a strong showing in the Arizona Rookie League in 2003 with a stellar 2004 campaign. Just 19 last season, Nottingham led the Northwest League in wins (9), innings (88.2) and strikeouts (87), while finishing fifth in ERA (3.15).

Utilizing a solid change up and solid command, Nottingham raced out to a fast start and never looked back. Even after surrendering three earned runs in two innings during an emergency call-up in Triple-A Tacoma, Nottingham didn't skip a beat and returned to his usual ways with the Aqua Sox. The season that the 2003 13th-rounder put together was quite impressive, considering that much of the talent in the league are college draftees.

2005 Projection:
Nottingham is slated to start 2005 with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in the Midwest League. The weather in the first half of the year in Appleton, Wisconsin, as well as around the league, should only help Nottingham acclimate himself to the league.


 
Ryan Rowland-Smith

Opening Day Age: 22
Born: Australia
Height/Weight: 6-3/230
Bats/Throws: L/L
2004 Teams: Inland Empire

2004 Positional Ranking: NR
2005 Positional Ranking: 8

   

2004: 5-3, 3.79 ERA, 99.2 IP, 119 K, 30 BB at Inland Empire

Breakdown:
Rowland-Smith has spent his pro career bouncing between the starting rotation and the bullpen and 2004 was more of the same for the left-hander. Perhaps one of the most underrated pitching talents in the M's system, Rowland-Smith offers a solid assortment of pitches, including a fastball that tops out in the 86-89-mph range and a solid change up. The Australian-born, 230-pounder could add velocity to his repertoire, which would create a more effective change up with two strikes.

Used primarily as a reliever in his career, Rowland-Smith does have 26 career starts and his career could be made as a starting pitcher. Already showing the ability to adapt, the 22-year-old may have convinced Mariners brass that he has a future, in whichever role is offered.

2005 Projection:
Double-A San Antonio is hollering for Rowland-Smith and it's likely the M's will oblige. Role to be determined, of course.


 
Rett Johnson

Opening Day Age: 25
Born: Aynor, South Carolina
Height/Weight: 6-2/210
Bats/Throws: L/R
2004 Teams: Inland Empire

2004 Positional Ranking: 3
2005 Positional Ranking: 9

   

2004: 0-2, 7.97 ERA, 20.1 IP, 14 K, 14 BB at Inland Empire

Breakdown:
Johnson's 2005 was a total loss and without an injury to report, chalk this one up in the column labeled "personal issues." During the spring, Johnson left camp for a short period of time amidst rumors of his retirement. The rumors ended up being false but something happened in minor league camp that pushed Johnson off track.

"Rehabbing" until after the all-star break this past season, Johnson finally made his debut with the Inland Empire 66ers. After seven starts and 20.1 innings of work, one thing was very clear- Rett wasn't back to form. At 6-2 and 210 pounds, Johnson blends a low-90's heater with a solid slider and good command. The 25-year-old will need to find the feel he had in 2003 to regain his solid stuff.

2005 Projection:
Guessing where Johnson will start the 2005 season is like trying to guess where Waldo is while watching a 1960's McDonald's commercial- impossible. Best guess? Double-A San Antonio.


 
Jason Snyder

Opening Day Age: 22
Born: Utah
Height/Weight: 6-5/208
Bats/Throws: R/R
2004 Teams: Everett

2004 Positional Ranking: NR
2005 Positional Ranking: 10

   

2004: 3-2, 2.48 ERA, 69 IP, 68 K, 23 BB at Peoria, Everett

Breakdown:
Snyder was one of the club's draft-and-follow signings and took the opportunity by storm. The 21-year-old allowed just 52 hits in 69 innings of work and yielded just two home runs in his first pro season.

The right-hander tosses a 90-mph fastball at hitters to set them up for a solid curve ball that could develop into a legitimate out pitch. Snyder was the M's 17th-round pick in 2003 and is ahead of the pace as he enters his second year in the organization.

2005 Projection:
Snyder should start the year with Wisconsin in the Midwest League and possibly graduate to the California League late in the season. Snyder's college experience could allow for a quick adjustment to the new set of hitter's and his curve ball, if it's biting, serves as a neutralizer.


Others:
  • Brandon Moorhead, 24, Wisconsin
  • Eric O'Flaherty, 20, Wisconsin
  • Mumba Rivera, 24, Everett
  • Aaron Jensen, 20, Everett
  • Rich Dorman, 26, San Antonio
  • Ryan Feierabend, 19, Wisconsin
  • Eric Carter, 22, Peoria
  • Jon Huber, 24, Inland Empire


  • EDITOR'S NOTE: Ryan Rowland-Smith was picked in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 draft by the Minnesota Twins. Rowland-Smith must stay on the Twins' 25-man major league roster all season or be offered back to the Seattle Mariners for $25,000.

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