M's Prospect Power Rankings: 7/18

The King is back and so are a few deserving talents in Double-A San Antonio.

1. Felix Hernandez, RHP - Tacoma
16 G, 13 GS, 9-4, 2.55 ERA, 77.2 IP, 58 H, 84 K, 42 BB, .207 BAA
Hernandez is back and with a new temporary role – stud reliever. In order to curb the workload on his 19-year-old arm and stave off a relapse of the bursitis that held him out of action for a month, the M's will use the Venezuelan in scheduled relief stints of up to three innings. Don't have flashbacks to Rafael Soriano – Felix is still going to be a starting pitcher in the big leagues.

Hernandez has made three relief appearances thus far and looked sharp in two of them, striking out six in four innings and allowing just one hit. The only slip-up coming July 17 when the right-hander surrendered three earned runs on three hits. It's still likely that Mariners fans will see Hernandez at Safeco in September.

2. Adam Jones, SS – San Antonio
92 G, .306/.379/.492, 10 HR, 52 RBI, 82 K, 36 BB, 11 SB
The emerging Jones is starting to fulfill the expectations that came with being drafted in the first round in 2003. The 19-year-old is developing nicely at the plate, showing solid power to go with good speed on the bases. Defensively, Jones still has a ways to go but range and arm strength have never been in question. More experience could be the answer with the glove. A move to center field is a possibility, but not likely to happen anytime soon.

3. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS – Inland Empire
71 G, .325/.398/.493, 4 HR, 43 RBI, 44 K, 36 BB, 5 SB
Cabrera is as consistent as any player in the organization and continues to put up good numbers in the California League. While his glove is what grabbed the attention, Cabrera's bat is displaying good pop for a middle infielder and could carry the 19-year-old into the future plans of the big club.

4. Yuniesky Betancourt, SS - Tacoma
90 G, .283/.307/.424, 7 HR, 41 RBI, 30 K, 13 BB, 18 SB
After watching Betancourt play as little as a few games, it's quite easy to see why the Mariners thought enough of him to offer a guaranteed major league deal. Betancourt has great range at shortstop, a better than average throwing arm, great hands, flawless footwork and the natural instincts that resembles 11-time Gold Glove winner Omar Vizquel. The 23-year-old Betancourt isn't too bad with the bat either, showing some pop in Triple-A Tacoma to go along with plus speed.

5. Bobby Livingston, LHP – Tacoma
19 GS, 8-4, 2.97 ERA, 121.1 IP, 108 H, 80 K, 31 BB, .244 BAA
Livingston pitched his way to Triple-A last week and made his PCL debut on Saturday, giving up three earned runs on five hits in five innings. The southpaw will have every opportunity to earn his way into the crosshairs for the M's rotation in 2006. The control specialist will need to make adjustments against the more experienced bats in Triple-A, but should be able to settle in and at least be effective. Whether he dials in and catches the same groove he was in at San Antonio may determine his chances next spring.

6. Clint Nageotte, RHP - Tacoma
7 G, 0-0, 0.87 ERA, 13.1 IP, 5 H, 17 K, 5 BB, 2 S, .114 BAA
Nageotte is quickly entering the picture for a September call-up – if not sooner – with his efforts out of the Rainiers bullpen. Using a 90-93 mph two-seam fastball with sinking action to set up a nasty slider, Nageotte is perfect candidate for the M's bullpen in 2006. If his change-up ever becomes an average pitch, Nageotte could jump into the rotation and give the Mariners 200 innings.

7. Shin-soo Choo, OF - Tacoma
70 G, .257/.374/.391, 7 HR, 28 RBI, 48 BB, 66 K, 15 SB
Choo has yet to show the power potential the Mariners believe he eventually will display, but as the 23-year-old gets comfortable in left field and learns to hit left-handers (.166 v. LHP in 2005), he'll likely remain in the minors. Choo's tremendous throwing arm, good speed and 20-25 HR power ceiling will keep him in future plans – unless he becomes trade bait.

8. Matt Tuiasosopo, SS - Wisconsin
74 G, .290/.374/.421, 6 HR, 37 RBI, 71 K, 34 BB, 3 SB
Third round draft picks aren't usually held to a standard that may leave ridicule at his doorstep for slugging just .421 in the Midwest League at 19 years of age – and we won't start here with Tuiasosopo. Last June's first pick is having a steady season with the occasional flash of brilliance at the plate. But there is still the issue of his future defensive position.

9. Yung-Chi Chen, 2B - Wisconsin
84 G, .288/.329/.405, 4 HR, 54 RBI, 59 K, 23 BB, 14 SB
Chen lacks only consistency and is a little short in the contact department, but may not have much more to learn in the Midwest League. The 22-year-old has some pop that could reach the 15 homer range but speed and defense will always be Chen's game.

10. Jeff Flaig, 1B - Everett
22 G, .325/.415/.513, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 11 K, 10 BB
Finally healthy, Flaig is showing why the Mariners were willing to be so patient with his shoulder problems over the past two seasons. The 20-year-old can hit for power and has great plate skills. Injuries aside, Flaig's skills may allow for a .300 hitter with power to hit 25-30 long balls. A right-handed John Olerud, anyone?

11. Jamal Strong, CF - Tacoma
73 G, .312/.386/.419, 4 HR, 33 RBI, 50 K, 33 BB, 19 SB
Strong has reached base safely in 47 consecutive games and his consistency might get him a September call-up. With adequate defensive skills in center field and the speed for late-inning base stealing, Strong has a future in the big leagues. Question is, ‘will the Mariners recognize?'

12. Rene Rivera, C – San Antonio
55 G, .297/.324/.410, 3 HR, 23 RBI, 38 K, 7 BB
Rivera's moderate offensive numbers in Double-A may not be doing the 22-year-old justice. After a 10-game stint with the Mariners, Rivera's confidence is sky high and his bat has shown satisfactory improvement. Many of the system's pitchers love throwing to Rivera, including Felix Hernandez, who cited Rivera's defense and communication as key to his development last season.

13. Luis Valbuena, 2B - Everett
25 G, .268/.368/.485, 4 HR, 20 RBI, 9 K, 14 BB, 6 SB
Valbuena gives the M's another middle infield prospect to develop – as if they needed more. The Sox leader in home runs is a solid defender with advanced offensive skills. Valbuena may have more power than Everett's shortstop last season, Asdrubal Cabrera.

14. Casey Craig, OF - Everett
34 G, .342/.420/.521, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 29 K, 13 BB, 12 SB
Craig is hitting from the leadoff spot in recent games, but the same old result keeps rearing its pretty head – Craig can hit, and everyone knows it. Let's see; a solid athlete with better than average speed and defensive abilities who has advanced plate skills that could develop into 25-homer power – from the left side of the dish. Nah, the M's don't need anyone like that.

15. Rob Johnson, C - Wisconsin
69 G, .281/.329/.445, 8 HR, 45 RBI, 27 K, 18 BB
Johnson has slowed a bit at the plate, but held his own as the dog days of summer begin. The 2004 fourth round pick is still displaying solid defensive skills and a strong understanding of his role as a catcher.

16. Hunter Brown, 3B - Tacoma
62 G, .286/.364/.455, 5 HR, 37 RBI, 44 K, 21 BB
Brown's steady work might get noticed someday – unless his play on the field follows suit, as it has been for the last, oh, I dunno, 10 weeks, maybe?

17. T.J. Bohn, OF – San Antonio
91 G, .312/.371/.465, 8 HR, 47 RBI, 75 K, 29 BB, 25 SB
Bohn has mashed his way back into the top 20 and the only thing keep the 25-year-old from the top 10 is… well, there are several things, starting with his age and level next to his lack of power and bad k/bb ratio.

18. Thomas Oldham, LHP – San Antonio
19 G, 8-5, 3.44 ERA, 110.0 IP, 125 H, 73 K, 33 BB, .291 BAA
Oldham has found his groove and fought his way into the league's top 10 in ERA at 3.44. The league is still hitting .291 off the M's 8th rounder in 2003, but since June 14, the league has hit just .245 off the southpaw.

19. Justin Leone, 3B - Tacoma
41 G, .272/.403/.463, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 44 K, 31 BB
Leone hasn't hit his stride at the plate but his solid K/BB ratio is waiting for his power numbers to catch up.

20. Sebastien Boucher, OF – Inland Empire
63 G, .322/.414/.450, 2 HR, 34 RBI, 50 K, 35 BB, 13 SB
Boucher is quickly making a name for himself as a quick learner and gamer. The 66ers leadoff man is gaining consistency and could be one to watch in the future. There are a few more extra-base hits in there than expected.

The Fallen - 1B Thomas Hubbard (13), OF Oswaldo Graterol (18), OF Wladimir Balentien (19).

New Additions - OF T.J. Bohn (17), LHP Thomas Oldham (18).

He's Back - RHP Felix Hernandez

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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