Prospect Watch: Sleepers

Call them what you want. "Under the radar," "quiet performers," whatever. Which minor leaguers could peak their heads out and have surprisingly good seasons without the fanfare?

Top 10 "Sleeper" Prospects

1. Eric O'Flaherty, LHP -The Mariners 6th round pick in the 2003 draft, O' Flaherty was off to a fine start to his pro career after two stops in 2003 – one in Peoria with the rookie club (3-0, 1.95 ERA, 27.2 IP) and one in Everett (1-0, 3.38 ERA, 10.2 IP). In 2004 with Wisconsin, the left-hander ran into trouble in all facets of his game. His control wasn't sharp, he lost command of most of his pitches and fought inconsistency from day one. After compiling a 6.12 ERA in 12 games, 10 starts, O'Flaherty was placed on the disabled list on June 11 and missed the rest of the season. Healthy and ready to rebound, the 20-year-old is back in Wisconsin in a relief role, primed to bounce back.

2. Jason Snyder, RHP - Snyder went under the radar last season until witnessed the right-hander's plus curveball and solid command dominate a Northwest League lineup on one end of a 13-inning scoreless streak, where the right-hander struck out 10 and allowed just eight hits. A draft-and-follow signee, Snyder could make up for lost time by moving quickly through the system. Fully capable of putting up top-of-the-rotation-like numbers in the Midwest League, Snyder could earn himself a promotion after the all-star break.

3. Luis Valbuena, 2B - Valbuena was the M's Venezuelan Summer League MVP while playing for Aguirre last season. The second base prospect hit .361 and led the team in five other categories. Valbuena, 19, is a left-handed hitter and possesses solid defensive tools and a leadoff hitter's approach at the plate. The 5-foot-10 Venezuelan will likely play in the Arizona Rookie League for the Peoria Mariners this summer and could see full season ball in 2006.

4. Steve Uhlmansiek, LHP - Uhlmansiek had Tommy John surgery on May 28, 2004, and won't see action until at least late May or June of this season. The southpaw could turn into the biggest steal of last June's draft if the 12th rounder is healthy enough to pitch significant innings this summer. Uhlmansiek's talent was never doubted and many had him going in the top 6 rounds, only to have his injury sink his draft value. Watch for the Wichita State product to start showing up in boxscores with some zeros next to his name under the runs column.

5. Bryan LaHair, 1B - LaHair tore up the Northwest League last season, earning a promotion on June 26. In each of his first two games as a Timber Rattler, LaHair hit a home run and totaled four RBI. The 22-year-old has bigtime power and simply needs to make bigger contact in order to maximize his power numbers. LaHair is a left-handed hitter that could put up some solid numbers in the California League this season, hitting behind some speedsters and in front of some solid lineup protection.

6. Julio Santiago, LHP - Santiago was signed in 2002 and played with Aguirre in the VSL in 2003, before breaking into the system last season with 10 stellar innings. The 19-year-old Colombian native allowed just two earned runs, while striking out 12 and walking just one batter in his stint with Peoria. Santiago is built much like three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez and has a similar delivery and arm angle – known to almost slingshot his pitches toward the plate in an overhand manner. In a starting or relief role, Santiago could put up some big numbers in short season ball this year, paving the way for an appearance at Wisconsin.

7. Edgar Guaramato, RHP - Guaramato is a 6-foot-1, 175-pounder out of Venezuela, signed in 2000. The right-hander spent a season in the Dominican Summer League and four seasons in the VSL. In 2004, Guaramato led the Aguirre club in wins with six and ERA with a 2.28 mark. The 20-year-old will likely see some action with one or both of the short season clubs in 2005, following fellow countryman Ivan Blanco on his path in the M's system.

8. Yunieksy Betancourt, SS - Betancourt was the surprise signee out of Cuba and started this season at Double-A San Antonio as their starting shortstop and leadoff hitter. Betancourt could end the season in Triple-A if his bat follows his strong glove skills. While the 23-year-old's tools play better at second base, the M's will continue to play him at shortstop for the time being. Betancourt also has good speed with 25-steal ability.

9. Eric Carter, RHP - Carter spent last season with the Rookie League Peoria Mariners, working 44.1 mediocre innings. But the 21-year-old right-hander has the live fastball and full arsenal to be successful in full season ball. Carter will likely see time in the Northwest League this season with a chance to earn a spot on the Wisconsin club with a fast start in Everett. Carter is likely to see time as both a starter and reliever after starting nine of 19 games at Delaware State.

10. Ivan Blanco, RHP - Blanco might have a shot to be the most improved pitcher in the system after a disappointing showing with Everett last summer. The right-hander posted a gruesome 11.05 ERA in four starts, striking out 20 in 14.2 innings, but allowed 20 hits and walked 12. If Blanco can keep his fastball out of the middle of the zone, he has a chance to be effective. The 21-year-old allowed five home runs in his four appearances.

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