M's Prospect Positional Rankings: Relievers

Brining up the rear, of the game that is, are the relief prospects down on the farm. In the final installment of the positional prospect rankings, InsidethePark.com takes a look at what arms might make a difference out of the pen.

George Sherrill

Opening Day Age: 27
Born: Memphis, TN
Height/Weight: 6-0/220
Bats/Throws: L/L
2004 Teams: Tacoma, Seattle

2004 Positional Ranking: NR
2005 Positional Ranking: 1


2004: 4-2, 2.32 ERA, 50.1 IP, 62 K, 9 BB at Tacoma; 2-1, 3.80 ERA, 23 IP, 16K, 9 BB at Seattle

While the M's bullpen was struggling to piece together inning after inning last spring and early summer, Sherrill was down in Triple-A torturing the poor hitters that had to step in and face him late in games. The 62/9 strikeouts-to-walks ratio is only part of the utter dominance the southpaw displayed with the Rainiers. Left-handed hitters hit under .100 against him and he went nearly three full months without allowing a hit to a lefty and when he finally did surrender a single, it was off the bat of perhaps the best hitter in the minors, Angels 1B prospect Casey Kotchman.

After finally getting the overdue call to the bigs, Sherrill proved his worth and bronzed the work of then-Mariners scout Charley Kerfeld, who is responsible for finding the diamonds in the rough such as Bobby Madritsch and Sherrill. The 27-year-old former independendent leaguer went from the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the Northern League to Safeco Field in less than 18 months and did nothing but impress in his time in the big leagues.

2005 Projection:
Sherrill should be well-rested after taking the final few weeks off after going nearly 16 months straight without consistent rest. A refreshed arm should allow Sherrill to pitch his way into the M's 'pen to start the 2005 season. Triple-A baseball is a total waste of his time and he is more than capable of getting left-handed hitters out at the major league level.

Scott Atchison

Opening Day Age: 29
Born: Denton, TX
Height/Weight: 6-2/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
2004 Teams: Tacoma, Seattle

2004 Positional Ranking: NR
2005 Positional Ranking: 2


2004: 5-3, 4.15 ERA, 69.1 IP, 76 K, 26 BB at Tacoma; 2-3, 3.52 ERA, 30.2 IP, 36 K, 14 BB at Seattle

Possibly the nicest surprise among the September callups, Atchison impressed with a 36/14 strikeouts-to-walks ratio but it really shouldn't have surprised anyone. The right-hander was solid in Triple-A, striking out 76 in 69.1 innings of work and walking just 26. Atchison was better in the majors, however, than he was in the minor leagues in 2004, posting a strong 3.52 ERA in 25 games.

With a solid fastball-slider combination, Atchison has a chance to maintain his effectiveness if the command stays aboard and he continues to attack the strike zone with both pitches. The M's thought enough of the Texas native to protect him from the rule 5 draft where he would have certainly been taken by a club in need of bullpen help.

2005 Projection:
Atchison has a real chance to break camp among the 25 guys heading north and it could be at the expense of Ryan Franklin. If the M's add a starting pitcher this winter or replace Franklin with Cha Seung Baek, Clint Nageotte or Travis Blackley, Franklin will be battling J.J. Putz and Atchison for one of the final two spots in the bullpen.

Cesar Jimenez

Opening Day Age: 20
Born: Cunana Sucre, Venezuela
Height/Weight: 5-11/185
Bats/Throws: L/L
2004 Teams: Inland Empire

2004 Positional Ranking: NR
2005 Positional Ranking: 3


2004: 6-7, 2.29 ERA, 86.1 IP, 81 K, 19 BB at Inland Empire

Jimenez has been sensational all three seasons as a pro and his 2004 campaign may have been his best. After spending the majority of 2003 as a starter for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers where he put up solid numbers including a 2.94 ERA, the Venezuelan did himself one better with his '04 performance that resulted in the left-hander posting a 2.29 ERA in 43 games.

Jimenez uses pinpoint control and a good mix of pitches that includes a fastball in the 84-87 MPH range. At 19 for all of 2004, Jimenez could add a few miles per hour to the heater and create a better differential between his no. 1 and his offspeed arsenal.

2005 Projection:
Naturally, Jimenez could start the year in Double-A San Antonio after dominating in the California League. Don't be surprised to see him struggle some and return to Inland Empire to regain some momentum and then head back to the Texas League in 2006. Repeating a year won't hinder the 20-year-old's progress if he handles the notion upstairs.

Matt Thornton

Opening Day Age: 28
Born: Three Rivers, MI
Height/Weight: 6-6/220
Bats/Throws: L/L
2004 Teams: Tacoma, Seattle

2004 Positional Ranking: NR
2005 Positional Ranking: 4


2004: 7-5, 5.20 ERA, 83 IP, 74 K, 63 BB at Tacoma; 1-2, 4.13 ERA, 32.2, 30 K, 25 BB at Seattle

The former first-round pick out of Grand Valley State JC had another subpar season but finished strong with the M's as a reliever. After scuffling with Tacoma for much of the season, mostly with control issues, Thornton continued the trend with the M's through the first three weeks of September. But in his final seven appearances, covering 7.2 innings, Thornton did not allow a run and struck out eight.

Contrary to most left-handers, Thornton's big-league struggles were against left-handers who hit .300 against him. Right-handers hit just .225 off the 6-6 southpaw but drew 18 walks. Armed with a fastball sitting in the 92-95 range, Thornton simply needs much better command to be effective over long stretches. Walking 88 batters in 115.2 innings isn't going to keep him in baseball very long.

2005 Projection:
Should the M's pass on veteran Ron Villone's two-year or $2 million demands, Thornton could have an outside shot at making the club. More than likely he will start the season in Triple-A Tacoma and given one last chance to harness the solid stuff he has always possessed.

Jared Thomas

Opening Day Age: 24
Born: Grand Blanc, MI
Height/Weight: 6-3/220
Bats/Throws: L/L
2004 Teams: San Antonio

2004 Positional Ranking: 5
2005 Positional Ranking: 5


2004: 5-3, 3.62 ERA, 59.2 IP, 64 K, 38 BB at San Antonio

Thomas followed up a solid 2003 season with another strong year as a left-handed relief ace. The M's 11th-round pick in the 2002 draft passed the Double-A test and showed the ability to get tough outs in tight situations. With a better fastball than Jimenez, Thomas has a bigger upside but with shaky control and a tendency to get himself into jams, the 24-year-old is less of a sure-thing when the game is on the line.

If the southpaw can limit the free passes and focus on punching the zone more consistently, he has a shot at being a successful major leaguer.

2005 Projection:
Thomas should have a crack at Triple-A Tacoma where they could lose their entire bullpen from last season to the major league roster. Making the jump is a big step for any pitcher but Thomas has the stuff to be competitive in the PCL. With better command he could open some eyes.

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