|The Graduating Class of 2005|
When fans of the Seattle Mariners look back on the 2005 season there are a number of things that may jump out to the front of one's memory.
The first season since 1986 without Edgar Martinez in the organization. The 90+ losses for the second straight year. Some may even remember that it was the sad end to the Miguel Olivo era, just as much as it was the end to the career of the franchise catcher, Dan Wilson.
It was also the 10th anniversary of the Refuse to Lose club from 1995.
Though the team didn't celebrate that memory with a successful season, there were a few fun things to remember.
On the positive side of things, it was indeed year one of the Felix Hernandez era. The Venezuelan cruised through the minors in less than three seasons and didn't disappoint in his 12 starts in a major league uniform.
Jeremy Reed's first full season is complete, albeit with mixed results and sudden seeds of doubt about his future.
Mike Morse and Yuniesky Betancourt each exhausted their rookie seasons, with Betancourt cementing his place on the roster for 2006 and beyond after flashing the leather and holding his own at the plate.
|Felix Hernandez, RHP|
Last winter, we told you about the legitimate ace qualities of the best pitching prospect in baseball.
InsidethePark.com boasted of the teenager's ability to control his emotions, command his fastball and snap off his wicked curve.
We spoke highly of his mechanics, the way he handles himself, and his nasty arsenal, including a slider that has yet to be unleashed.
Well, I'm here to brag and say "We told you so."
Not that we reached very far to proclaim Hernandez as the second coming, since every soul under the baseball moon could see he was special.
Hernandez started the year in Triple-A Tacoma, and while he was as nasty as ever, he did have a few issues with his control, walking 48 batters in 88 innings of work.
The phenom experienced a few bumps in the road, and when you read "few", that's about all there was.
By the time the calendar turned to June, Hernandez was ready for the show, but thanks to a sore right shoulder the 19-year-old waited out a DL-stint and a few relief appearances before making his major league debut in August.
Who will forget the first time they saw King Felix take the mound in Detroit? Well, okay, let me re-think that, since the game was not televised locally and only a few 'netters caught the action live.
After just a few starts, it was as clear as Canadian Spring Water that the kid was the real deal, disposing of all the doubts that M's fans had about the teen sensation.
But those who saw, heard, or read about Hernandez's spring outing versus the Los Angeles Angels should have seen this coming.
A short trip down memory lane reveals a showdown between Hernandez and the reigning American League MVP, Vladimir Guerrero.
The at-bat ended with Guerrero swinging and missing at a 97-mph heater. After the game, Hernandez told the media what he was thinking at the time.
"It was Vlad, I had to strike him out."
The American League has been shaking in their Mizunos ever since.
Hernandez had the use of a 94-98 mph fastball in his 12 starts, both the two and four-seam variety. A knee-buckling curve ball often followed and the occasional change-up that baffled left-handed hitters was not far behind.
Scouts have always been in awe of the natural abilities of Hernandez, but at 19, a few east coast scouts could barely believe their own eyes, despite reading the reports beforehand.
One Philadelphia Phillies scout couldn't say enough about the poise and physical control that Felix displayed, start after start.
"He's out there as if the hitter doesn't belong," he said. "Instead of pitching nervous or overextending himself, he expects to get everyone out, and then he does."
The right-hander pounded the strike zone relentlessly, inducing ground ball after ground ball and keeping his pitch counts well within reason.
It was this, along with his incredible stuff that impressed a National League East scout the most.
"All I remember is that I walked away wishing he was pitching in Georgia," said a Braves scout. "He's easily the best I've seen in maybe 30 years. Better than (Doc) Gooden, better than (Mark) Prior, and easily the most polished of this year's rookie pitchers."
High praise for a special talent, and the numbers back it all up, and more.
Hernandez went just 4-4 in 84 innings in Seattle, but his 2.67 ERA, 77 strikeouts, 23 walks and a mind-boggling 3.31 groundball-fly ball ratio were all top drawer projections that the success that Hernandez experienced on the mound this past summer, was here to stay - and it may get even better.
The Mariners knew they had something special when they inked a deal with a 16-year-old kid in July, 2002.
International Scouting Director Bob Engle and scouts Pedro Avila and Emilio Carrasquel did the leg work to land Hernandez, but not even the trio responsible for signing him would claim they believed he was going to be quite this dominating.
What happened on July 4, 2002 was more than a great free-agent signing. It would ultimately save the organization time and money. It saved the M's from another year or two of rebuilding, as the club attempts to construct a club that can contend after two straight disappointing seasons spent at the bottom of the AL West.
The presence of Hernandez allows GM Bill Bavasi to seek one rotation mate for their ace, instead of blowing up the entire pitching staff and spending every last dollar on replacing them over the next two or three winters.
Hernandez, all by himself, speeds up the club's return to contention by at least a year, maybe two or more.
One last look at the scouting scale for Hernandez would reveal his plus arsenal, accompanied by his strong pitchability, solid mechanics and advanced intangibles.
What makes Hernandez's two fastballs so tough to deal with is the movement, but he doesn't lose velocity off the two-seamer, giving hitters no chance to guess right on a fastball they may be able to lift, and a cutting, driving heater that even the best of bats will pound into the ground or swing through.
Hernandez mixes in his curve ball, often getting a called third strike with the pitch, and even when he hangs it above the knees, the break is usually sharp enough to fool the hitter.
With improved command and a more consistent release point, this pitch could approach the 80 range on the 20-80 scale.
It's the equalizer for Felix, with his curve ball being of the high-velocity type. The change-up could end up being his best pitch as he builds consistency with it and gains more confidence.
If you don't believe in Felix's change-up, ask Minnesota Twins outfielder Michael Ryan, who saw one of the better off-speed pitches thrown all season at Safeco Field, swinging and missing at a dead fish in the dirt for strike three.
His arm slot is flawless, his arm-action is very consistent and he doesn't seem to show any tendencies to float his leg kick, whether in the stretch or the wind-up.
|Jeremy Reed, CF|
Reed entered the season with great expectations, many of which targeted the American League's Rookie of the Year honors.
Every predictor, projector and forecaster saw big things coming from Reed in 2005. It didn't quite work out that way, as the Long Beach State product hit just .254 with a .354 slugging percentage after posting strong minor league numbers that suggested he was primed and ready for the big-league challenge.
In three seasons in the minors, Reed hit .327/.401/.478, including .305/.366/.455 at Triple-A Tacoma after coming over in the trade for Freddy Garcia.
Reed struggled to consistently drive the ball as he always has, failing to get out in front of fastballs and getting tied up inside.
The 24-year-old often showed the ability to be selective, but at times seemed to be a little too patient, perhaps passing on good pitches to hit.
Reed never appeared to be comfortable and couldn't find the groove he had found during his September call-up in 2004.
Reed even struggled on the bases, stealing 12 bases in 23 attempts and losing confidence in his ability to get a read on a pitcher's routine.
The former second round pick by the Chicago White Sox did excel in the field, however. Though to be his greatest weakness, Reed thrived in center field, getting consistent jumps and rarely making a bad read on anything hit to the outfield.
The highlight reel is a deep and warranted consideration for a gold glove.
|Hitting for Average: 60|
|Hitting for Power: 50|
It's probably going to take Reed a little longer to develop his power stroke than originally expected, but you don't post a career .879 OPS in the minors unless you can hit.
Reed's instincts grade very high and without blazing speed, the 6-foot, 195-pound covers a lot of ground between Ichiro and the forever-rotating spot in left field.
|Throwing Arm: 50|
Reed relies on hitting the cutoff man to hold runners from taking the extra base. It's safe to call it a left fielders arm.
Twenty steals is about tops for Reed, who also uses his better-than-average speed on defense.
|Yuniesky Betancourt, SS|
After defecting from Cuba and sitting out of organized baseball for more than a year, Betancourt took the field in Double-A San Antonio and surprised many, including one of the scouts responsible for signing him.
No, there weren't many shocking moments when the 23-year-old was donning the leather. Defensive wizardry was Betancourt's forte.
Not many thought he was going to be immediately capable of hanging in at the plate after the long layoff.
Betancourt's modest .711 OPS in San Antonio was enough to get him promoted to Triple-A Tacoma, where he subsequently notched a .766 OPS, a 55-point improvement from the Texas League.
Betancourt's .295/.323/.443 showing in Tacoma was more than enough to earn him a promotion to Seattle where his on-base and slugging numbers took a hit.
The speedy shortstop totaled 14 triples, 30 doubles and eight home runs in 161 games at three levels. More than enough for a player with the defensive skills of Betancourt.
|Hitting for Power: 35|
As he matures, both physically and in his approach at the plate, he could top out in the 8-10 home runs range.
|Hitting for Average: 45+|
He rarely strikes out and does tend to swing at decent pitches, but until he gains greater command of the strike zone and learns to control it some, he'll probably continue to hit under .280.
He makes every play you could ask as shortstop to make, and then adds some of the plays that a club expects their second baseman to make, and even a few that an average third-sacker needs to make.
He has plus range to either side, great hands and flawless lateral movement that allows for smooth deliveries on throws to anywhere on the diamond.
|Throwing Arm: 65|
|Mike Morse, SS/LF|
Remember when Morse was hitting .330, playing error-free defense at shortstop and impressing people with his quality at-bats in the clutch and his sunshine-approach with the media?
Steroid suspension aside, since it appears that he indeed has been suspended three times for the same offense, Morse's 2005 did not end the way he would have liked.
After mediocre numbers in Triple-A (.253/.317/.407, 4 HR, 49 G), Morse's red-hot start in Seattle created some false sense of value for the 23-year-old.
It's clear that he isn't terrible at shortstop, save for his lack of range, but it's also clear that he doesn't belong playing between the second base bag and Adrian Beltre at third.
Third base is probably Morse's best position defensively, but it won't be here in Seattle.
Offensively, the lanky 6-foot, 5-inch Florida native has more power in his bat than he has shown, and displayed a better-than-average ability to make adjustments.
Morse is likely destined to be an extra infielder, but he could be a useful one if he catches on with the right club.
|Hitting for Average: 50|
His future in the game of baseball will greatly depend on how much of the untapped natural power can be drawn out of his swing. But his ability to make consistent contact will remain a key component. Evening out the K/BB ratio could be the difference.
Expecting anything more than .270/.330 from Morse right now is a mistake. And it may take him a few years to get there.
|Hitting for Power: 55|
Better plate coverage and improved pitch recognition is critical, as he often was tied up on hard stuff in, while he constantly looked for pitches away to drive to right field.
The outfield isn't in Morse's best interest, but he'll play anywhere he's asked. If he settles in at the hot corner, it may be in Tacoma as the club tries to rebuild his value.
|Throwing Arm: 60|
Jose Lopez, 2B (2004)
Greg Dobbs, IF
Matt Thornton, LHP
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Up Next: Positional Depth Rankings, November 25.