2005 M's Farm Report: Top 10 Breakthrough Players

InsidethePark's Joe Kaiser goes over the Top 10 prospects in the Mariners farm system that had breakout seasons in 2005.

1. Bryan LaHair, 1B, Inland Empire
.310, 509 AB, 22 HR, 113 RBI, 0 SB, .373 OBP, .503 SLG

LaHair showed some promise in 2004, earning a quick promotion to Wisconsin after a torrid start in Everett, but nobody could have forecasted the unbelievable season he had with the 66ers in '05. After hitting .279 in 262 at-bats with the Timber Rattlers last season, the Massachusetts native took advantage of the thin air and sunny weather of the California league on his way to 22 homers this season. He was the team's most consistent offensive player, staying out of prolonged slumps, and ranked amongst the league leaders defensively at first base, a position he only moved to last season. LaHair is a former 39th round pick who has had to earn every bit of his success in the minor leagues, and another season like this at Double-A in 2006 would make him one of the Mariners top prospects.

2. Adam Jones, SS/CF, Inland/San Antonio
IE: .295, 271 AB, 8 HR, 46 RBI, 4 SB, .374 OBP, .494 SLG
SA: .298, 228 AB, 7 HR, 20 RBI, 9 SB, .365 OBP, .461 SLG

The question with Jones has never been his talent, but whether he would ever realize it. In 2005, the 20-year-old did just that. The Mariners first round pick in 2003, Jones spent the first half of the season smashing California League pitching as a member of the Inland Empire 66ers. While there, Jones hit .295 with 33 extra-base hits in 271 at-bats. He was awarded with a mid-season promotion to Double-A, a move that few understood and many questioned. Was he being pushed too early? Would it stunt his development? No and no. Jones flourished with San Antonio, finishing the year with a .298 batting average, leading the team. The only remaining question is where Jones will play in the field. After three seasons at shortstop, the strong-armed athlete will play center field for the Mariners in the Arizona Fall League starting in October. It's a position that could suit the wiry athlete from San Diego, Calif., quite well.

3. Craig James, RHP, Wisconsin/Inland
WIS: 2-1, 0.88 ERA, 26 G, 30.2 IP, 18 H, 3 ER, 5 BB, 31 K
IE: 0-2, 2.42 ERA, 23 G, 26.0 IP, 25 H, 7 ER, 8 BB, 24 K

In his first full season of pro ball, James made many wonder what the holdup was in previous years with a dazzling 2005. A former draft pick of San Francisco, James came to Seattle when his contract was voided due to what the Giants believed was a pre-existing elbow injury. James, a Miami, Flor., native, has since undergone Tommy John surgery and regained the velocity on his fastball. In 2005, he continued the dominance he showed at Peoria in 2003 and 2004, shooting his stock through the roof. With a low 90s heater and great command, James will be 23 heading into '06, and probably will begin the year at Double-A San Antonio.

4. Rob Johnson, C, Wisconsin/Inland
WIS: .272, 305 AB, 9 HR, 51 RBI, 10 SB, .319 OBP, .430 SLG
IE: .314, 70 AB, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 2 SB, .381 OBP, .443 SLG

Johnson was the Mariners fourth round pick and second overall selection (after Matt Tuiasosopo) in 2004, so there was little denying he had some talent. Problem was, he wasn't able to show much of it during his first pro season in 2004 at Everett. Slowed by a sore elbow, Johnson mostly appeared as a designated hitter with the AquaSox and finished the season in the Arizona Rookie League. Johnson rebounded with a very impressive '05 season split between Wisconsin and Inland, proving himself both at the plate and behind it. With a strong accurate arm, he was voted the Midwest League's defensive catcher of the year. Look for Johnson to begin at Inland in '06.

5. Sebastien Boucher, OF, Wisconsin/Inland
WIS: .326, 178 AB, 2 HR, 31 RBI, 11 SB, .411 OBP, .461 SLG
IE: .352, 213 AB, 2 HR, 21 RBI, 15 SB, .453 OBP, .474 SLG

Boucher, the second outfielder selected by Seattle in the 2004 draft, was touted as a Kenny Lofton type of player coming out of Bethune Cookman University in Florida. A Canadian, Boucher signed shortly after the June draft, but was unable to acquire a Visa to play in the United States until the fall and missed the entire 2004 season. He made his M's minor league debut a month into '05 after first "playing catchup" at extended spring training, and never stopped hitting from that point forward. A smart, advanced hitter at the plate, Boucher showed great leadoff skills by getting on base and stealing 26 bases. He's also one of the organization's top outfielders. Expect Boucher in San Antonio in '06.

6. Michael Garciaparra, 2B, Inland
.298, 336 AB, 6 HR, 33 RBI, 10 SB, .387 OBP, .414 SLG

It was a make-or-break year for Garciaparra, the Mariners first round choice in 2001 out of La Habra Heights, Calif. Riddled by injuries, a light bat and shaky defense in his first three pro seasons, it was time for the young Garciaparra to break out of his shell and show what he was made of. That's precisely what he did in '05 in his second season with Inland. Though limited to under 350 at-bats due to a minor knee injury early in the season, Garciaparra made big strides offensively in both the batting average and on-base percentage departments, and remained steady in the field at second base. He'll likely see his first action in Double-A in '06.

7. Jon Lockwood, RHP, Everett/Wisconsin
EV: 2-0, 0.00 ERA, 5 G, 16.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 19 K
WIS: 3-0, 2.12 ERA, 15 G, 29.2 IP, 18 H, 7 ER, 14 BB, 43 K

How do you go from a 22-year-old who gets roughed up in the Arizona Rookie League one year to a 23-year-old untouchable reliever the next? Well, that's what Lockwood did, a undrafted free agent out of Louisiana Tech who signed with Seattle in 2003. Lockwood was 3-4 with a 6.87 ERA in 10 games with Peoria in 2004, making nine starts. This season, he moved to the bullpen and found immediate success. Lockwood didn't allow a run – earned or otherwise – in 16 innings at Everett, then followed that up with 15 stellar appearances at Wisconsin. For the season, he went 5-0 with 62 strikeouts and 15 walks. He'll be asked to repeat his '05 performance at Inland in '06.

8. Mike Wilson, OF, Wisconsin
.266, 463 AB, 19 HR, 84 RBI, 10 SB, .360 OBP, .464 SLG

Like fellow second round pick Josh Womack, drafted a year behind him, Wilson's 2005 season was his most important to date in what had previously been a pretty disappointing minor league career. The hulky outfielder didn't miss his chance, posting career numbers in a league known to favor pitchers. Wilson was the Timber Rattlers most clutch hitter late in the season and into the playoffs, and finished with a career high 19 homers for the year. He had hit just 12 in parts of two seasons before that. Once thought to have little upside after a slow start to his pro career, Wilson turned that perception around with his breakout '05 and is slated to play at Inland next season.

9. Marshall Hubbard, 1B, Wisconsin
.297, 391 AB, 17 HR, 77 RBI, 4 SB, .387 OBP, .496 SLG

Hubbard never seemed to be comfortable in his first pro season at Everett in the summer of 2004, but when given a chance to play a full season he excelled at Wisconsin this year. The former University of North Carolina star was one of the key bats in the middle of the Timber Rattlers lineup all season long, and had it not been for LaHair's monster year Hubbard would have almost surely been promoted to Inland at some point in the season. Expect him to start '06 with the 66ers with a chance to post career numbers in the hitter-friendly California League.

10. Paul Fagan, LHP, Everett
6-2, 3.50 ERA, 15 G, 82.1 IP, 86 H, 32 ER, 33 BB, 50 K

A fourth rounder in 2003, Fagan didn't exactly blow anybody away with his numbers in the Arizona Rookie League during his first two pro seasons. That changed, though, this season as the left-hander took advantage of his wicked movement on the mound and made Northwest League hitters pay. Not a strikeout pitcher, Fagan only notched 50 K's in 82.1 innings with Everett in 2005, but he began to show the maturity and smarts on the mound the organization had been waiting for. He'll be 21 at the start of the '06 season, and almost surely see his first action above Everett – either at Wisconsin or Inland.

Others: 1B/LF Jeff Flaig, OF T.J. Bohn, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, LHP Ryan Feierabend, OF Jaime Bubela, RHP Stephen Kahn, 2B Luis Valbuena, 3B Hunter Brown, RHP Stephen Grasley, LHP Julio Santiago, 2B Ronald Garth, LHP Robert Rohrbaugh, Chad Fillinger, J.B. Tucker

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