M's Prospects vs. The Best in Baseball
Delmon Young (TB), 19, Montgomery - AA - .337/.388/.586, 20 HR, 71 RBI, 25 SB: Young is widely considered one of the best hitting prospects in the game but is far from one-dimensional. The top overall pick in the 2003 draft has a big time throwing arm and the speed to swipe 20 bags a year – to go with 35+ homer potential and plus plate skills. At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, the right-handed hitting Young has the frame to be one of the game's better power hitters for years to come.
Carlos Quentin (AZ), 22, Tucson - AAA - .297/.418/.529, 15 HR, 56 RBI, 46 BB, 36 K: Quentin is likely to land a starting spot in Arizona's outfield in 2006, providing the Diamondbacks with much-needed punch as they sprint into the future. Quentin could top out in the 30-35 home run range while maintaining a high on-base percentage. His strikeouts-to-walks ratio in Triple-A is evidence that the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Quentin is major league ready.
Jeremy Hermida (FLA), 21, Carolina - AA - .290/.441/.513, 14 HR, 42 RBI, 19 SB, 66 BB, 64 K: Hermida fought off injuries over the past few seasons to force his way back to top form this season. The Marlins first round pick in 2002 is less than a year from the big leagues and could break through by the end of 2005 if the Fish trade away Juan Encarnacion and/or Juan Pierre. Hermida's batting eye and power-speed combo make him a perfect fit in either corner of the outfield. Thirty homers and Chipper Jones-like plate skills are not out of the question for the left-handed hitting Hermida.
With all apologies to Jeff Francoeur (ATL) and Lastings Milledge (NYM), Hermida, Quentin and Young are the top three outfield prospects in the game today.
Seattle Mariners: Chris Snelling is every bit the pure hitter that Young, Quentin and Hermida are, but the difference between the M's top outfield prospect and the best in the game is power. Snelling may top out in the high teens or low 20s while the above three will all likely hit 30 or more. Shin-soo Choo is a fine all-around player with plus grades in all five tools, but the 22-year-old has a ways to go before being considered a blue-chipper. An experienced Adam Jones could add to the outfield depth should he make the move a few years down the road.
Conor Jackson (AZ), 23, Tucson – AAA - .373/.463/.568, 7 HR, 32-2B, 54 BB, 22 K: Jackson was drafted with the 19th pick in the 2003 draft. Sound like a familiar draft slot? It should. Arizona received that draft pick as compensation for the Seattle Mariners signing Greg Colbrunn, who played all of 22 games for the Mariners before being traded back to the Diamondbacks. Jackson currently leads the Pacific Coast League in hitting and his right-handed power swing is likely to develop 30-homer power.
Casey Kotchman‘s (LAA) struggles gave way for Jackson's offensive explosion to take over the top spot at first. Both are similar hitters that put up high averages, make a lot of contact, draw walks, and have continuously developing power that has yet to fully materialize – but most certainly will.
Seattle Mariners: The M's are without a top first base prospect - 2004 draftee Marshall Hubbard may be the system's top option. Hubbard has solid power and decent all-around offensive skills but his 2005 performance can't be taken too seriously due to level of competition. Jackson is a future MLB All-Star with the potential to compete for a batting title.
Rickie Weeks (MIL), 22, Milwaukee – MLB - .261/.370/.478, 5 HR, 15 RBI, 4 SB, 27 K, 13 BB: Weeks was the second pick in the 2003 draft out of Southern University. The ultra-athletic Weeks is a multi-tooled offensive threat with power potential that could reach the low-20s and speed that may result in up to 30 steals per season. Defensively, Weeks has the physical skills to become a gold glove defender, but needs time to polish his glove skills. The 22-year-old was called up by the Brewers two weeks ago and has shown off the abilities that allowed him to hit .320 with 12 home runs in Triple-A Nashville.
The only other current second base prospect worth bringing up is Josh Barfield (SD). Weeks is easily the cream of the crop.
Seattle Mariners: Seattle is void of a top second baseman in the minors right now, with Yung-Chi Chen the best of a mediocre group. But if any of a number of quality prospects make the transition to second base, the M's will be fine. Jose Lopez, 21, is already manning the position in the big leagues, but if Adam Jones or Asdrubal Cabrera switch to second base, they could challenge Lopez in a few years. Chen is a year behind Jones and Cabrera and probably comes up short offensively.
Ian Stewart (COL), 20, Modesto -A - .251/.338/.436, 7 HR, 38 RBI, 30 BB, 57 K: Stewart hit .319/.358/.594 with 30 home runs last season in his first taste of full season professional baseball. Equipped to handle the hot corner defensively, Stewart should ultimately fill out what may be the best young infield in baseball in a few season. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound left-handed hitting Stewart is likely to thrive in the thin air of Coors Field and barring any bumps in the road of development, may toy with Todd Helton-like power numbers. Ignore his slow start and ordinary numbers – he was coming off a hamstring injury that is still not 100%.
With Dallas McPherson (LAA) and Andy Marte (ATL) in the big leagues, Stewart was the easy choice. The Rockies prize prospect is a bonafide superstar in the making. Dodgers third sacker Andy LaRoche has also burst onto the scene this season with 26 homers.
Seattle Mariners: Jesus Guzman is currently the top third base prospect in the M's system - which doesn't make for an exciting comparison to Ian Stewart. Guzman's bat plays better at second base.
Hanley Ramirez (BOS), 21, Portland - AA - .276/.340/.419, 5 HR, 30 RBI, 18 SB: Ramirez is a five-tool prospect that has the skills to play anywhere on the diamond. At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, Ramirez combines his 20-25 home run power potential with plus speed and a quality throwing arm. If he stays with the Boston organization, he may be forced to move to second base or center field due to the presence of Edgar Renteria. Ramirez is a premium prospect who could surpass the all-around abilities of any current Red Sox player.
Ramirez has hot competition from Joel Guzman (LAD) and Angels slugger Brandon Wood. None of the three are sure bets to stick at shortstop, but Ramirez may have the best shot. Wood and Guzman have a sizable advantage in the power department, allowing for better offensive fits at third base or the outfield. Ramirez is the best overall athlete of the trio, landing him the nod.
Seattle Mariners: Finally a position the Mariners can compete at, if not for blue-chip talent, than for depth. M's 2003 first rounder Adam Jones and Venezuelan switch-hitting defensive wizard Asdrubal Cabrera lead the pack but Cuban defector Yunieksy Betancourt might be the long-term answer. Betancourt has plus range and great footwork to go with solid speed and an average bat. The 23-year-old has the tools to hit in the big leagues and his defense would rank in the top five in the league - right now.
Jeff Mathis (LAA), 22, Salt Lake City - AAA - ..280/.345/.504, 11 HR, 44 RBI, 25 BB, 54 K: Mathis hit just .223 with 100 strikeouts in Double-A Arkansas last season, a year to forget for the game's best catching prospect. The 22-year-old has rebounded nicely and is likely to get every chance at the Halos starting spot in 2006 – if not sooner. Mathis has power that could reach the 20-homer mark, but his best asset is between his ears – right where you want your catchers best tool.
With Joe Mauer in the majors, the catcher's spot came down to Angels backstop Jeff Mathis, the Dodgers top catching prospect Dioner Navarro and Atlanta's Brian McCann. Mathis' offensive prowess made the difference.
Seattle Mariners: Currently, Rene Rivera and Robert Johnson are the top two catching prospects in the system, but that's only until Jeff Clement signs a contract. The M's top pick last month has 30-homer power and if he improves defensively as expected, could outhit Mathis, especially in the power department. Rivera has a chance to become a solid defensive catcher with average offensive abilities while Johnson is a catch and throw type with a solid bat. Clement is the key to the M's future behind the dish and his success would push the club over the top of the rest of the league.
Matt Cain (SF), 20, Fresno – AAA - 5-4, 3.84 ERA, 93.2 IP, 70 H, 106 K, 49 BB: The right-handed Cain offers a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a power curve. The 20-year-old is using his improved change-up more often this season and though his command needs polishing, Cain is as close to being ready for the next level as any of the top pitchers in the minors. With a sharper second half, Cain will see SBC Park sooner or later and has a chance to be a No. 1 starter.
Chad Billingsley (LAD), 20, Jacksonville – AA - 6-4, 4.22 ERA, 85.1 IP, 77 H, 101 K, 29 BB: Billingsley's 4.22 ERA is inflated in the Southern League, but the right-hander's peripheral numbers remain terrific in his first season in Double-A. Over the course of the three seasons Billingsley has been in pro ball, batters are hitting just .211 off of him. Sitting in the 93-95 range, Billingsley is the quintessential power pitcher. Without a usable change-up, he uses both a curve ball and a slider to finish off hitters. Billingsley is a potential No. 1 starter for the Dodgers.
Anthony Reyes (STL), 23, Memphis – AAA - 6-3, 2.93 ERA, 73.2 IP, 56 H, 72 K, 17 BB: Reyes may break through and hop into the Cardinals rotation later this season and his consistency is the leading reason. Comfortably sitting in the low 90s with his fastball, Reyes works hitters all over the strikezone with his slider and quality change-up. The USC product has the stuff to become a frontline starter in the big leagues.
The above trio had mucho competition from the likes of Florida's Scott Olsen, White Sox right-hander Brandon McCarthy and the red-hot Jon Lester of the Red Sox. Cain, Billingsley and Reyes are a blink of an eye away from the big leagues, and may be the best equipped to handle the majors once they get there.
Seattle Mariners: Felix Hernandez remains the games best pitching prospect. The 19-year-old's arsenal exceeds that of any other minor league pitcher - and most big leaguers. Sitting in the 93-96 range and occasionally touching 97 and 98 with the fastball, Hernandez fools hitters into poking weak ground balls to second base and shortstop with his low-90s two-seamer that dives down and away frm right-handers and in on lefties.
The hammer curve ball is devastating and the phenom's change-up might ultimately become his best pitch. When you have the minors best stuff, are just 19, and are continuously getting better on the mound, it's a pretty good bet that you will be success in Major League Baseball.
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