Jeff Clement 101

As the Mariners continue to negotiate with first round draft pick Jeff Clement and his advisors, fans sit and wonder what kind of player the M's will have on their hands as soon as the ink is put to the paper. While Clement awaits a contract, InsidethePark.com talked to the scouts and trained eyes that have evaluated the USC catcher in recent months.

Jeff Clement was taken third overall by the Mariners in this month's First Year Player's Draft. The club strongly considered other options, such as Long Beach State shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, Wichita State right-hander Mike Pelfrey and prep star Cameron Maybin, but couldn't justify passing on the nation's best catcher.

What is it about Clement that made him the choice of M's General Manager Bill Bavasi, Vice President of Scouting Bob Fontaine and the entire scouting and player development departments?

Three things – upside, ceiling and high-reward talent.

Clement was scouted regularly by the entire league, but none more heavily than the M's, who still see the catcher's position as a weakness within the organization. All five NL West clubs scouted the Trojans second all-time leading home run hitter from the start of his sophomore season through his final games as a collegiate star two weeks ago.

"We watched him for two years," said a National League West regional scouting coordinator. "We loved his bat from the first day, but I specifically liked the way he went about his business and kept getting better."

Clement is, and probably always will be, known for his offense. The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder is compared favorably to big league backstops such as Jorge Posada and Jason Varitek. Both Posada and Varitek were drafted and signed as offensive catchers who could develop solid defensive games as they gained valuable experience. Both did so, and Clement is expected to do the same.

"There's really no reason why he can't be at least league-average," said a long-time amateur scout . "But he's probably a better hitter at this stage than Varitek or Posada were at the same age. Varitek was in a very similar situation coming out of school, too."

"You look for certain things from a catcher and he has all of them," said an AL West scout, a former catcher in his own right. "He doesn't lead vocally at this point, but that team rallied around him, and that says a lot. That is a tool that usually goes unnoticed."

Speaking of tools, Clement grades very highly in one specific area – the area near the plate called the left-handed batters box.

What kind of power Clement translates from college and the aluminum bat into the pro ranks with the wood stick has yet to be shown, but he has the physical tools and approach to be a successful all-around hitter who hits for power.

"Because he has a pretty conservative stride and hip turn, Clement generates most of his power from a massive upper body," said Jeff Sullivan of LookoutLanding.com. "He has incredibly quick wrists that let him get the bat head out in front of the ball, and the result is a bunch of fly balls sailing over the fence."

Clement wow'd scouts with his power stroke, as much as the result it produced, often leaving the trained eye just as impressed after he'd made an out.

"He hit a routine ground ball between third and short versus Stanford that I was in awe over," said an eastern regional scout. "He was down in the count 0-2, worked the count to 3-2 and after fouling off three junk pitches, grounded sharply to the shortstop who made a solid play to get him out. But most hitters, even the experienced ones, would likely have struck out long before the change away that he ended up hitting."

The fact that Clement made the most of the at-bat, rather than flailing away and swinging for the fences on the two-strike pitches, is what separates him from most other hitters in the college game. Sullivan notes that Clement has the stride and swing to remain a solid contact hitter as he learns to hit professional pitching.

"Clement has a compact swing and tremendous bat speed that let him turn around on even the hardest of fastballs," said Sullivan of Clement's plate appearances at the Super Regional in Corvalis. "He will swing through the ball every so often, but it's rarely a timing issue. When he misses, it's usually because he just had the bat in the wrong place, rather than, say, being fooled by a breaking ball."

Even those convinced that Clement will hit and hit for power at the next level, which is everybody who saw the 21-year-old swing a bat at any point over the past two seasons, still have questions about Clement as a pro prospect. The questions aren't aimed at Clement's time spent at the plate, but rather when he squats behind it with five pounds of equipment draped all over his frame.

"He's a little rough around the edges," said the NL West scout. "But he's light years better than he was a year ago and you can see he really enjoys catching."

Clement's throwing arm is above-average in strength and average in the accuracy department but his release is quick, even if it is still in need of work.

"His transition from the crouch to proper throwing position is a little slow," said Sullivan. "So he tries to compensate by releasing the ball quickly with a short-arm motion. As a result, he's got an inconsistent release point that leads to some high throws and some two-hoppers."

"I didn't like what I saw from his throwing," said an AL West scout. "He'll need to work a lot on getting the most out of his throwing arm. His mechanics aren't consistent, but that isn't usually a big issue if the player in question is a gamer. Clement is a gamer."

Clement's arm strength is not in question, and most clubs cited his throwing as "inexperienced" rather than inadequate. M's catching guru Roger Hansen will undoubtedly spend a lot of time working with Clement in attempt to maximize his arm strength.

When looking to improve their throwing mechanics, catchers, like quarterbacks, start from the ground up, focusing on the feet, hips then shoulders. Position of the feet is critical for catchers.

"It's easy to see that Clement has a strong arm," said Sullivan. "But until he improves his footwork and smooths out his throwing mechanics, it won't mean much."

Most Mariner faithfuls, renowned fans, and otherwise, were hoping that Nebraska third baseman and Golden Spikes Award winner Alex Gordon would fall to the M's at No. 3. Gordon was rated the top hitter in college ball and widely considered the top power-hitting prospect in the draft. Gordon would likely have made the switch from third base to left field in the M's organization, and groomed to hit in the five-hole and aim for the Hit-it-Here Cafe night-in and night-out.

He didn't drop to the Mariners, but if it's left-handed power the experts want, Clement has enough to quiet the disappointed and frighten the snobs that litter the right field cafe seating at Safeco Field.

"He'll hit plenty of home runs," said the AL West scout. "He'll eventually start pulling a lot of his homers and that bodes well for him at Safeco."

"He may not be the best power prospect in this year's draft," said Sullivan. "But it's close."

As for Clement's long-term future as a big leaguer, not one scout of the bunch saw as anything but an all-star quality offensive backstop, who's intangibles should allow for his defensive shortcomings to catch up with his bat.

What about his upside?

"He doesn't project to be what Varitek has become behind the plate and in the clubhouse," said an American League scout. "But neither did Varitek himself when the Mariners drafted him. I really believe Clement was the right pick for them. He has career all-star type abilities."

What kind of absolute ceiling does Clement really have?

"In his prime he could easily pop for 30 or more homers," said a National League scouting director. "We saw him as a premium bat and I'd be surprised if he doesn't thrive in that ballpark and help them rebuild. I wouldn't be surprised to see him eventually hit .300, too. He has that in him."

And his high-reward talent?

"I thought he was the third best talent in the draft," said the NL West scout. "And he might end up giving Seattle the best value in all of the top 10. Catchers like Jeff Clement are rare."

Jason A Churchill is the Executive Editor at InsidethePark.com and can be reached via e-mail at JasonAChurchill@InsideThePark.com

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